New Cost for Some Smokers and Drinkers
On a sunny day in its parks and on its street corners, Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan can be a parade of connoisseurs of low-end cigars and cheap malt liquor.
On Tuesday, with snow flurries and a bone-chilling wind, the sidewalk cafe was closed. But there was no shortage of chilly opinion about Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
He plans to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit partly by sharply raising taxes on small cigars like White Owl and Swisher Sweets and even more for malt liquors like Olde English "800" and Colt 45. The governor's proposal would lift the malt liquor tax to $2.54 a gallon from 11 cents a gallon.
For a 40-ounce malt liquor, that would mean a tax of 79 cents per bottle, up from less than a penny, if the proposal is approved by the State Legislature. "It's messed up, it's wrong!" said Darryl, who looked as though he was in his 50s and was bundled up against the cold. "You got mostly poor people like me buying malt liquor."
Asked why he bought malt liquor rather than beer, Darryl, who declined to give his last name, looked quizzically at a reporter and replied, "You get twice as much, and it's got a bigger kick to it."
A 40-ounce malt liquor, almost a third of a gallon, will cost up to $2.50, compared with $3.50 or more for an equal amount of beer. While beer contains about 5 percent alcohol by volume, malt liquor can have as much as 9 percent.
Roman Isre, 28, a barber at Erik's Barber Shop on 10th Avenue, said he bought malt liquor once or twice a week. "That's bad!" Mr. Isre said when told about Mr. Spitzer's proposals.
Would he buy less malt liquor? Mr. Isre smiled. "Nah. You got to do what you got to do," he said. "It's like gas. You drive the same mileage for $2 a gallon or $3.50 a gallon."
Just how much prices will rise is a little unclear, but consumers will notice.
The governor expects to raise as much as $5 million a year in revenue from the extra cigarillo tax and $18 million from the malt liquor tax.
Malt liquor is a form of beer that has been artificially boosted with alcohol and is not marketed as beer. Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesman for the State Division of the Budget, said malt liquor would be taxed as if it were liquor instead of beer to "better reflect alcohol content."
Little cigars, or cigarillos, are about the size of cigarettes but are wrapped in whole-leaf tobacco instead of cigarette paper. But the two products will now be taxed similarly, Mr. Gordon said.
Cigarillos are now taxed as tobacco products, at 37 percent of the wholesale price, but they do not carry the "tax stamp" of cigarettes. In New York City, cigarettes carry a state tax of $1.50 and city tax of $1.50 per pack. Under the governor's proposal, cigarillos would carry a tax stamp, too.
Even before the governor proposed his increases, there was a move, at least in the bodegas and delicatessens of Hell's Kitchen, to stop selling malt liquor.
A and A Market and Deli, at 45th Street and 10th Avenue, used to sell as many as 40 cases of malt liquor a week, but it became too bothersome to stock. "We have arguments here, very loud arguments," said Mustafa Saleh, 27, the deli's manager. "They don't want to pay."
When customers did pay, it was annoying, he said. "They paid in change," he said, "$2.50 in nickels, dimes and pennies; that's the kind of money they have."
Other deli workers are happy not to carry malt liquor.
"It's bad for the people," said Niff Alaradem 29, a clerk at Clinton Gourmet Market, at 46th Street and 10th Avenue. "You see so many alcoholic people, it's all they drink, Colt 45, Olde English, everything. They take one of these big bottles and it's dinner."
Source: New York Times