Repeal would be disaster, foes say

Treatment for addicts stands to lose millions

By Matt Murphy and Colleen Quinn
State House News Service / October 28, 2010

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Opponents of Question 1 warned yesterday that repealing the state’s new sales tax on alcohol would lead to “people dying on the streets’’ by taking funds away from alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment programs, while liquor store owners said the new tax has hurt business and driven customers away.

At a press conference in the Church on the Hill, lawmakers aligned with the No on One effort urged voters to reject the ballot question next Tuesday.

State Representative James O’Day, a West Boylston Democrat, said he had been sober for 12 years thanks to receiving treatment for alcoholism, and he warned that addicts who do not get help will be out on the streets.

“We’re going to have people dying on the streets.’’ O’Day said.

“It’s not a real complicated issue.’’

State Senator Steven Tolman, a Brighton Democrat, accused the alcohol lobby of trying to buy the election. He cited recent campaign-finance reports that showed hundreds of thousands of dollars being poured into the Yes on One campaign by alcohol distributors, manufacturers, and package-store owners.

“The committee will have close to $2 million by Election Day, which they will use to buy the desired result,’’ Tolman said.

The five largest donors to the tax-repeal effort are the Beer Distributors of Massachusetts; Horizon Beverages; Martignetti; M.S. Walker Distributors; and Anheuser-Busch, according to the No on One campaign.

After implementing the sales tax on alcohol in the summer of 2009, the state collected $97 million for last 10 months of fiscal 2010, according to the Department of Revenue. The tax’s proceeds are projected to rise to $111 million for the full fiscal 2011 budget year.

The money from the tax has been earmarked by the Legislature for alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment programs. The DOR also reported that alcohol sales, based on collected excise taxes, dropped by 1 percent statewide between fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

Liquor-store owners along the New Hampshire border interviewed this week by the News Service said the new tax is driving customers away. New Hampshire does not have a sales tax on alcohol.

A billboard outside Route 110 Liquors in Amesbury reads, “Remember the sales tax. Vote them out of office.’’

“We are down about 25 percent since the sales tax went in,’’ said Phillip Jones, manager of the store.

“It is very frustrating to pay what you pay, to try to run a business, and have someone take 25 percent of your business away,’’ Jones added.