Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden hosted a 30 minute "Happy Half-Hour" Google Hangout.
The presentation was a bit like watching a grandpa Skype for the first time with his grandchildren. He leaned into the computer's camera and spoke loudly and ticked off some groaner jokes. Speaking about craft beer's sizable impact on Oregon's economy, Sen. Wyden explained that it brings an estimated $6 billion to Oregon each year, and generates 40,000 jobs. "That's not small potatoes," he said, pausing before adding, "or as we might say, hops."
Sen. Wyden was joined by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, a state where beer production is so important the mascot for its major league baseball team is even named "Brewer," and which hosts 100 craft breweries. The chat also included Gary Fish, owner of Deschutes Brewery, and Jeff Hamilton, president of Sprecher Brewing Co. in Glendale, Wisconsin.
Although Sen. Wyden and his guests joked gently back and forth about which state has better beer and college football, the goal of the presentation was stone-cold sober: To talk about easing administrative and tax burdens on craft brewers.
"Some of these regulations should be in a museum," quipped Sen. Wyden, referring to current regulations that require breweries—as well as many cider and wine-makers—to file payroll taxes every other week, as opposed to quarterly like most companies. This summer, along with Sen. Baldwin, Wyden introduced the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, which would roll back these onerous tax requirements.
The new recommendations are common sense—and, moreover, round out a flight of updated regulations and protections that Sen. Wyden has championed for beer, cider, and wine producers in Oregon and nationwide, and for which we toast him with the Glass Slipper.
Earlier this legislative session, Sen. Wyden also introduced the Small BREW Act of 2015, a sweeping reform that would reduce excise taxes for microbreweries. Under current regulations, breweries producing fewer than 2 million barrels are taxed at $7 per barrel under 60,000 and $18 per barrel between 60,000 and 2 million. These excise taxes were put in place in 1976, when only a few dozen microbreweries existed, and the largely hobby brewers were not commercial endeavors. Since then, the industry has exploded, yet the tax regulations have not changed to accommodate these new small businesses.
Under Sen. Wyden's proposal, small-scale breweries would see their excise taxes cut in half for production under 60,000 barrels (to $3.50 per barrel) and then slightly reduced, from $18 to $16, for production up to 2 million barrels. Those adjustments would save microbrewers $70 million annually—money that could help level the playing field with macro-breweries. Moreover, they would provide small-scale breweries a needed competitive leg up against the mega-breweries, who, in spite of the popular appeal of craft breweries in places like Bend and Portland, still account for more than 90 percent of beer sales nationwide. David needs whatever help he can get going toe-to-toe with Goliath beer-makers.
In the past year, Sen. Wyden also has passed regulations allowing growler fills for wine and for brewers to sell their "spent grain" to local farmers; both practices that lawmakers were looking to ban.
Tweaking the tax code isn't a big vote getter, and none of these legislative measures are high-profile, but the changes that Sen. Wyden has brought about—and, with these recent bills, introduced—are major game-changers for small breweries like Sunriver and Worthy Brewing and will allow them to spend less time (and money) on accounting and more on the business of brewing great beer and creating local jobs.
Join us in raising a pint of craft beer to Sen. Wyden this week!