New tax on alcohol sales in Boston proposed

According to a report in The Boston Globe, two city councilors in Boston have initiated a process that could potentially lead to the implementation of a significant new citywide tax on alcohol sales. The objective of this proposed tax is to generate substantial revenue that would be exclusively allocated to substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.

If this proposal is approved by both the City Council and the state Legislature, it would introduce a tax ranging from 1 percent to 2 percent on all alcohol sales, encompassing beer and wine, in various establishments such as restaurants, taverns, bars, supermarkets, and package stores.

City Council President Bill Linehan, who co-authored the proposal alongside City Councilor Frank Baker, emphasized that alcohol and drug addiction afflict thousands of individuals, many of whom are unemployed and reliant on public resources. Addressing their addiction and aiding their reintegration into society represents a significant opportunity to reduce public expenditure, Linehan argued.

Linehan stated, “Dollar for dollar, it’s the best investment we can make. Once they recover, there won’t be any further demands on resources for free hospital services, shelter, or other assistance. They will secure jobs and contribute to the tax base.”

It is important to note that alcohol is already subject to an excise tax, and in 2009, the state Legislature imposed an additional 6.25 percent sales tax on alcohol, which was later repealed by voters in a 2010 statewide referendum. Advocates had promised to allocate a portion of the revenue generated from this sales tax to fund treatment programs.

Last year, Linehan and Baker proposed introducing a sales tax on alcohol sold in supermarkets and package stores, but this initiative was abandoned following opposition from retailers who felt it unfairly targeted their industry while leaving untouched alcohol sales in restaurants, taverns, and bars.

The current proposal has encountered resistance as well. Frank Anzalotti, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, representing approximately 2,000 alcoholic beverage retailers statewide, including hundreds in Boston, expressed opposition, stating, “We are opposed to an increase in the sale taxes. Alcohol is already taxed. It would mean a tax on a tax.”

Regarding the proposal, the office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh issued a statement, acknowledging the need for additional funding for treatment programs but remaining noncommittal on support for the measure. Walsh’s statement indicated that he looks forward to learning more about the proposal during the City Council’s deliberations.

The proposal is set to be discussed by the City Council, but a vote is unlikely to occur for several weeks, according to Linehan.

Should the City Council approve the proposal, it would need to secure majority votes in both the House and the Senate, along with the governor’s signature, to become law.

Mayor Walsh, in his recent state of the city address, expressed concern over the closure of a bridge to Long Island, where addiction treatment facilities and the city’s largest homeless shelter are located. The bridge’s closure was due to structural issues.

Governor Charlie Baker has been actively addressing the opioid-related addiction crisis since taking office, most recently forming a 16-member working group tasked with assessing resources, holding public meetings, and providing targeted recommendations by May.

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