Ky legislature should not give in to empty threats made by greedy bourbon industry | Opinion

·3 min read

Whiskey fungus is not the bourbon industry’s only dirty secret. Their dirtiest secret is they don’t want to pay their fair share to do business in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s bourbon industry wants ANOTHER tax break. It claims the barrel tax makes them less competitive causing Kentucky to lose ground because other states don’t have one. Yet Kentucky distillers are touting the best production and sales year ever. How can the industry be booming and at the same time be stressed by competition? Kentucky produces over 95% of the world’s bourbon; it has no significant competition from other states. Kentucky distillers also own many out-of-state distilleries like Jack Daniels. Where is the competition?

What the distillers are asking Kentuckians for is a direct subsidy that further increases their profits and prioritizes their growth and welfare before much needed investments in communities. The revenue collected from the barrel tax goes towards schools, road maintenance and fire/police/EMT services in the areas where distilleries operate. Distilleries depend on community fire department to put out their warehouse fires. The last Woodford Co. warehouse fire took firemen from five counties four days to contain and extinguish. Woodford County officials said they couldn’t have contained it without the barrel tax monies they used for training and purchasing specialized equipment needed to put out a fire fueled by millions of gallons of highly combustible alcohol. Bullitt County officials say they did not have enough barrel tax money to repair the roads damaged by distillery trucks. Nelson County officials said their schools would lose $7 million. How much are local governments going to have to PAY to cover the cost of having a distillery operate in their county?

The distillers knew their operation costs (including the barrel tax) before their expansion plans were approved. Many counties accepted the expansion believing they would get barrel tax revenues. Now that the warehouses have been built and land for expansion bought, distillers want to renege on paying the barrel tax. Would the counties have approved distillery expansion if there were no barrel tax? Isn’t bait and switch illegal in Kentucky?

Most distilleries are owned by international conglomerates, not old Kentucky families. Makers Mark is owned by Japanese whiskey maker Suntory. Buffalo Trace is owned by Sazerac, the first or second largest spirit distributor in US. If these international conglomerates want to do business in Kentucky they can pay their fair share to operate in our communities and use our service infrastructure and our environmental resources. Toyota does.

Coal companies are among the biggest contributors to the election campaign war chests of many of the state’s republican politicians. Now that the coal industry is dying, Kentucky Republicans are looking for a new “donor industry.” Eliminating the barrel tax at the GREAT expense to local communities so the already profitable bourbon industry can profit even more, suggests they have found one. Just like legislation around coal; republican bourbon legislation will be at the expense of communities, the environment and ultimately the State.

Margaret Groves
Margaret Groves

Margaret Groves is a retired teacher, a life long bourbon drinker, and member of the 100 plus member coalition to “Protect Peaksmill” from Buffalo Trace expansion.