Pear cider having a rare moment on Arizona tax scene

2014-03-12T00:00:00Z Pear cider having a rare moment on Arizona tax sceneBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to put apples and pears on equal footing, at least for tax purposes.

Legislation awaiting House action would extend the same low tax rates that exist for apple cider to also include anything brewed from pears. The difference is significant:

Pear cider is now taxed at 84 cents a gallon, the same rate as beer; the rate for apple cider, considered a wine, is just 16 cents.

But none of this is designed to help pear growers in Arizona — the few of them there are in Cochise County. Instead it’s a bid by MillerCoors LLC, which now produces a pear cider, to make it cheaper for retailers and bars to sell its product.

It’s called Fox Barrel Pacific Pear Cider.

It’s not cheap. A Phoenix retailer is offering a four-pack of 12-ounce bottles for $6.49.

And it’s not like the change, already pushed through the Senate, would make a big difference to shoppers. With the tax prorated, the cost would drop just a quarter — assuming that either MillerCoors or any retailers pass on the savings to customers.

No one from the brewing giant would return repeated messages. But John Mangum, the company’s lobbyist, told lawmakers they should not worry about the financial impact of the change, at least as it affects the state’s coffers, given how little pear cider actually is sold in the state — perhaps in the neighborhood of just 2,740 gallons a year.

He said the current levy on pear cider probably brings in just $2,300 a year; with the change, Mangum pegged the total tax collection at just $438.

“So it doesn’t have a great revenue impact,” Mangum testified to members of the Senate Finance Committee. “But it does matter to people who grow pears and make pear cider.”

The bid to lower taxes on pear cider came as a surprise to Annie Holcomb. She operates Apple Annie’s orchard near Willcox.

“I’ve never even heard of it,” she told Capitol Media Services.

And Holcomb said it’s not like lower taxes and perhaps an increased interest in pear cider would be any help to her.

“It’s not a big commercial crop,” she said. “We don’t even grow enough for our customers to pick.”

But Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, who agreed to sponsor the bill for Mangum and his client, said he never saw it as an economic development issue.

“My view was just trying to see pear cider get treated the same as apple cider,” he said.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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