Whining about Wine
I miss October. The weather was nice, the sky was clear, and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team was on its way to an 11th World Series title. Also during October, many people congregated in various parts of Missouri to celebrate Oktoberfest, a fun and lively event where people enjoyed cultural activities along with certain viticultural products.
I want to make it clear that I do not want to outlaw wine in Missouri. However, it troubles me that taxpayer money is subsidizing the wine industry. Specifically, the Missouri Department of Agriculture spends $1,828,859 (click on HB 6-Agriculture and scroll down to page 133) on something called the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.
According to the Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Budget Request Form (click on HB-6-Agriculture and scroll down to page 134), “The Wine and Grape Board stimulates growth of the grape and wine industry for the economic and social benefit of the citizens of Missouri.” Aspects of the board’s functions include using funds to “develop programs for growing, selling, and marketing of grapes and grape products grown in Missouri.” Indeed, the Missouri Wine and Grape Board does have marketing products, including brochures, videos, and radio advertisements. The Wine and Grape Board also funds the University of Missouri Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture & Enology in order to fund grape research programs.
So, in essence, the board serves somewhat like a chamber of commerce for the Missouri wine and grape industry. However, unlike a chamber of commerce, participation in this program is mandatory, with a charge of a 12-cent excise tax on every gallon of wine sold in the state. Also, in all my searches through the state budget, I have yet to encounter an official appropriation for a private chamber of commerce.
I have to ask, why can’t Stone Hill or Hermannhof promote themselves with their own money? Why can’t there be a private chamber of commerce that promotes the wine industry, or all the wineries of the state? I have no problem with private groups promoting wineries, but do I think the state should be promoting them? No.
Also, there is no evidence that this expenditure actually DOES have a positive impact on the state’s wine industry. In my search, I haven’t seen anything to suggest that the Missouri Wine and Grape Board has a discernible impact on the Missouri wine industry. Even the economic development report on the Missouri Wine and Grape Board website doesn’t really show the spending cause and effect; it just shows that in recent years, Missouri wineries are doing well. However, it doesn’t link the activities of the board to the wine industry’s success.
The key issue here is funding priorities. Why is the state funding this board, at least at its current level, when there are other places in the budget that may require that money? If the choice for appropriators is between potentially laying off teachers, firing firemen, or withholding funds from vital social services, shouldn’t every area of the state budget come under review for potential savings? Just my 2 cents.