Taxing Alcohol – A Sensible Way to Fund Key Programs

I have been hearing from a lot of my constituents about the proposed sales tax on alcohol, and I want to take this chance to provide some information and explain my position.

In these hard economic times, our state does not have adequate revenue to maintain funding for many vital programs, including core essential services. Funding for health care, education, local aid, services for the disabled, home care for seniors, public safety, and much more has all been cut way back. To soften the blow these cuts will have, we need to find new ways to increase revenue and restore some funding for these critical services.  One way we can do this is by removing the sales tax exemption for alcohol.

We currently exempt some products from the sales tax —  such as food, residential water, gas, electric services, and prescription medications – because they are necessary for daily life. We do this to limit the regressivity of the sales tax, and make it a little more fair by applying it to purchases we typically think of as more discretionary.

Currently, Massachusetts is one of only six states that does not have a sales tax on alcohol. For some, a beer or glass of wine can be a great way to end a day of work, and I’d never deny folks that. But I think we can agree that alcohol isn’t a necessity, and I believe it should be treated the same way as other non-essential goods.  It is also important to point out that the few in society who abuse alcohol add an extra burden on state costs, such as increased health care and public safety expenses from drunk driving.  Part of the alcohol sales tax will be dedicated to programs to reduce these social costs.

With the elimination of the alcohol sales tax exemption, the state will gain an estimated $78 million dollars, which can then be used to restore funding to essential programs, such as substance abuse programs, programs to combat youth violence, increased support for victims of domestic violence, suicide prevention, and support for disabled children and their families.  I think that is a fair trade off for an extra fifty cents or less on a six pack of beer or a bottle of wine.

No one is happy about the budget cuts and increased taxes that we in Massachusetts (and across the country) are facing, but my focus as a legislator has been on finding a balanced approach to the state’s fiscal crisis that doesn’t just cut services to balance the budget.

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