Members of San Francisco's Budget and Finance Committee heard more than three hours of arguments both for and against a proposed ordinance that would impose a fee on alcohol distribution in the city. But in the end, they delayed the vote.
The "Charge for Harm" ordinance, introduced by Supervisor John Avalos in June, seeks to recover an estimated $18.1 million in alcohol-related costs to the city, according to the city controller's office.
The original proposal would amount to a 4-cent-per-serving increase in the price of beer, a 6-cent increase per glass of wine, and a 5-cent-per-serving increase for hard liquor. The supervisors on Wednesday suggested an amendment that would reduce these proposed fees by 25 percent.
The controller's office predicted the fee would fall directly on wholesale alcohol distributors in the city, and ultimately retailers would likely pass the fee on to consumers. This could allegedly result in reduced spending at bars and restaurants.
But supporters at Wednesday's rally and meeting -- many donning red baseball caps with "Charge for Harm" written across the front -- argued that taxpayers end up paying the cost for alcohol abuse, and that the fee is meant to shift this burden to big businesses.
The $17 million expected to be generated by the fee would go to alcohol treatment programs and fire department emergency transport.
Dissenters voiced concerns that rather than hitting the targeted big businesses, the fee would hit small businesses unable to absorb the added costs. Many said they worried about resulting job losses in the private industry sector and a potential hit for the city's tourism industry.
The committee is expected to vote on the fee next week. The full Board of Suprvisors is scheduled to vote on the matter in September.