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Senate panel votes to raise tax on hard liquor by 50 cents a liter

A state Senate panel has voted to raise Wisconsin's tax on hard liquor by 50 cents a liter as part of the new crackdown on drunken driving.

The Judiciary Committee also voted Tuesday to raise a court fee from $20 to $163, to help cover the costs of several measures the Assembly approved last month.

The tax and fee hikes would raise about $35 million a year, almost half of what it would cost for the system to handle a larger number of OWI offenders.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the cost is five times higher than what lawmakers were led to believe last month.

Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, believes bureaucrats are inflating the cost estimates, because they don't like the proposals.

He also has serious doubts the Assembly would pass the 58 percent liquor tax hike.

But Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, said it wouldn't be enough to stop folks from having a backyard gin and tonic in the summer.

And Gov. Jim Doyle's office says it's open to the liquor tax hike.

The Senate's package is similar to what the Assembly approved unanimously.

It makes first-time OWI a misdemeanor with kids in the car, expands the number of offenders needing ignition interlocks to start their vehicles, and encourages more treatment.