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Drinking problems (or, pass the wine and tax the sodas?)

Every year, as the state budget deadline nears, we get inundated with op-eds and requests for meetings from groups who fear their particular ox will be gored by spending cuts.  Let me summarize the inevitable message: We agree the state should curb spending, but take it out of somebody else's hide.

And then, of course, there are the cause advocates who wish one particular ox or another would get gored, because the need for revenues and/or cuts is an opportunity to get an agenda advanced.

It's enough to drive one to drink.

Or not, as the case may be -- because this year, two of the hottest issues involve drinking. Take the issue of allowing wine sales in groceries -- a real corker. Or the thought of taxing sodas (pop, in these parts) and other sugary drinks -- that one has some real fizz, too.

We've published some op-eds from both sides on these issues lately, and had some pretty emotional (on their side, not ours) meetings with advocates and opponents. And there have been a lot of letters to the editor as well.

But the central force in both cases (OK, I'll lay off the puns now) isn't soda or wine at all. Neither initiative would stand a chance, under lobbying pressure, if the state didn't have to search the couch cushions for money (with which to offset the complaints of even more powerful special-interest forces in health care and education). Not that a billion here and a couple million in revenue there is chump change, mind you.

Years of yielding to temptations to spend now has lawmakers in a place where they may have to offend some special interests anyway. No longer can they just kick the can down the road.

OK, so I lied about the puns.

-  Mike Vogel, Editorial Page Editor

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