The City of New Orleans (“the City”) has amended and re-enacted a gallonage tax on alcoholic beverages of low and high alcoholic content. A “gallonage tax” is a tax on alcoholic beverages based upon the amount, calculated in gallons, of alcoholic beverages sold. The current ordinance became effective on January 1, 2017, but industry members have sought to enjoin the implementation of this “new” tax. The ordinance closely follows the wording of the State gallonage tax statutes, which causes the tax to apply to wholesalers or Louisiana manufacturers because they are the first parties to come into possession of the alcoholic beverages in the State of Louisiana. The City ordinance does not have the effect that it apparently intended, and is worded as follows:
Section 10-511 – Who is liable for tax.
The taxes levied in sections 10-501 and 10-502 of this division shall be collected, as far as practicable, from the dealer who first handles the alcoholic beverages in the city. If for any reason the dealer who first handled the taxable alcoholic beverages has escaped payment of the taxes, those taxes shall be collected from any dealer in whose hands the taxable beverages are found.
On February 9, 2017, the City Council introduced an ordinance to amend Section 10-511, which qualified the word “dealer” in the first sentence and the first phrase of the second sentence with “wholesale”. Nevertheless, according to the current wording of the ordinance, if the wholesale dealer has “escaped” the tax, the retailer will be responsible for paying the tax to the City.
There is a strong likelihood that New Orleans alcoholic beverage retailers will end up having to pay some of this tax if the ordinance is enacted and enforced as currently written. Several large wholesale companies, including Southern Glazers, Southern Eagle, and Republic, do not have any physical presence within the City of New Orleans, and therefore should not be subject to the tax.
A few trade organizations have challenged the enforceability of the ordinance in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. The plaintiffs were successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order, but were denied a preliminary injunction. The temporary restraining order has lapsed, but, as of this date, the City has indicated that it will not collect the tax until the litigation has concluded. One City official has suggested that if the City prevails, that the tax due will be retroactive to January 1, 2017.