Booze and Local Taxes

Both Diageo and Brown Forman have been in the news lately with some minor battles with local officials and citizens about taxation.

Let’s start with Brown Forman. Government officials in Moore County Tennessee, made famous by BF and their Lynchburg distillery, want to tax the company for each barrel of whiskey they produce. According to what I read in Wine and Spirits Daily and elsewhere, Lynchburg gets 250,000 visitors a year and still Moore County wants to tax BF $10 per barrel.

As one of my readers put it, “Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg…there’s many other ways to fix their budget problem by taxing visitors…They have problems with roads in and out of Lynchburg? Let them put in toll roads.”

The tax would amount to around $4 million, not a great deal in the scheme of things but there are some factors the county officials are overlooking. According to a BF spokesperson, they already pay high property taxes and have a dominant role in the area’s economy including the creation of jobs.

In case you didn’t know, Moore County Tennessee, home of the world famous Jack Daniel’s distillery, is dry.

Some 840 miles to the east in the state of Connecticut, my friends at Diageo are under attack from a group called Connecticut Working Families. This is a coalition of community organizations, labor unions and activists who are protesting “corporate giveaways” to companies like Diageo.

According to their press release:

“Diageo has been a major beneficiary of public subsidies. The company received a $40 million tax break on the promise it would create 300 new jobs in Connecticut. Today, however, according to the latest data from the Department of Economic and Community Development, the company has 29 fewer jobs in Norwalk than when it got the tax break in 2004.

“Diageo, based in the United Kingdom, earned $3.7 billion in global pre-tax profits in 2010. According to Reuters, Diageo CEO Paul Walsh was compensated $4.8 million.”

So let me see if I got this straight. Brown Forman has created jobs in Moore County and attracted 250,000 visitors a year to a small town no one would otherwise drive through, much less visit, and the folks who run the government want to pinch $4 million out of them. Diageo gets a $40 million tax break that was meant for job creation but has cut jobs instead. How does that work?

Maybe Brown Forman should move its Jack Daniel’s production to Connecticut.

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