CLT Update
Monday, March 26, 2001

CLT launches new political action committee:

"I am frankly amazed that we haven't done this before. We have a revenue stream there if we want one."

State Sen. Marian Walsh (D-West Roxbury)
Chairwoman, Joint Committee on Taxation
The Boston Globe - Mon., Mar. 26, 2001
New alcohol tax eyed to pay for treatment
[full report below]


Monday, March 26, 2001

CLT launches new political action committee:

Joe Six-PAC Chairman - Barbara Anderson - (508) 384-0100
Joe Six-PAC Treasurer - Chip Ford - (781) 631-6842

In response to the latest political assault on Massachusetts working people, Citizens for Limited Taxation today has filed a new political action committee.

CLT's "Joe Six-PAC" will fight state Sen. Marian Walsh's proposed new tax on alcohol by supporting pro-taxpayer candidates.

Joe Six-Pack is being punished for his vote for an income tax rollback with a petty threat to hike the cost of his beer.

People who use but do not abuse alcohol are not responsible for increased health care costs relative to alcohol abuse. In fact, a moderate consumption of beer and wine has been found by several studies to be beneficial for health. So put that in your glass and sip it, Sen. Walsh.

This proposed new tax has nothing to do with health issues, and everything to do with some legislators' addiction to our money and need to raise more revenue under any pretext. Perhaps a compassionate private organization would offer a treatment program -- Greed Anonymous. This could rehabilitate politicians who cannot keep their hands out of our pockets.

Read our wine-sipping lips, Sen. Walsh: no new taxes. We will fight you at the package store, in the tavern, at the ballpark, and from our reclining chair in front of the television. If that doesn't work, we will fight you by driving to New Hampshire, where we can also avoid tobacco taxes and bottle bill deposits.

The only thing we will not do is give up a legal substance with proven health benefits just because some politicians abuse the power to tax. If our new political action committee saves just one man or woman from a heart attack, stroke, or drive over the border, taxpayers can again toast a victory.

The Boston Globe
Monday, March 26, 2001

New alcohol tax eyed to pay for treatment
By Ralph Ranalli
Globe Staff

Asserting that alcohol, unlike tobacco, has failed to pay its fair share of the billions of state taxpayer dollars spent on health care related to substance abuse, law enforcement, and social services, the Senate chairwoman of the joint Committee on Taxation and a host of community groups are pushing for a 5 percent retail sales tax on liquor purchases.

Senator Marian Walsh's proposal, which is certain to face a fight from the powerful liquor lobby and antitax groups, would double the state's current alcohol tax revenue and earmark $57 million in new revenues to pay for a comprehensive state program for the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

Walsh, a West Roxbury Democrat, is also proposing an increase in the state tobacco tax earmarked for public health. But tobacco taxes have been steadily increased over the last decade in recognition of high smoking-related costs to public health programs, while alcohol excise tax revenues have dropped.

Since 1979, the last time the alcohol excise tax was increased, tobacco tax revenues have risen 96 percent, from $142 million to nearly $279 million. Over the same period, as alcohol consumption has fallen somewhat, alcohol tax revenues dropped 23 percent from just under $80 million to $63 million, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Recent national studies rank Massachusetts second in the nation in spending on programs related to substance abuse as a percentage of the overall state budget.

According to the New York-based National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Massachusetts' courts, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Social Services, and other agencies ate up an estimated 17 percent of state spending in 1998 to deal with the aftermath of drug, alcohol, and tobacco addiction and abuse.

More than $2.6 billion was spent paying for public health programs, giving foster care for children of alcohol- and drug-abusing parents, prosecuting drunk drivers, imprisoning drug dealers, and providing welfare for drug addicts and alcoholics, the group said.

Advocates argue that Massachusetts' alcohol taxes were relatively low. In 1998, the state tax on beer, for example, ranked 40th for the 50 states, and at 11 cents per gallon was well below the national average of around 40 cents per gallon.

"You either pay one way or another," Walsh said last week. "I am frankly amazed that we haven't done this before. We havea revenue stream there if we want one."

Yet, as one political insider put it, "taxing Joe Six-Pack's six-pack" is expected to be a tough sell.

In addition to the difficulty of proposing a new tax during a time of increasing economic uncertainty, backers of the bill are expected to receive fierce opposition from the powerful alcoholic beverage lobby and liquor store owners, and face a probable veto by the governor's office.

"The governor and the lieutenant governor have opposed raising taxes," said Shawn Feddeman, a spokeswoman for Governor Paul Cellucci and Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift. "There are many worthwhile programs that we could look to the general fund for, but raising taxes is not something the governor would look favorably upon."

Yet Walsh, social service groups who support the bill, and other legislative backers, like state Representives Brian Golden of Hyde Park and Colleen M. Garry of Dracut, say the recent vote on ballot Question 8 shows widespread public support for prevention and treatment efforts.

Question 8 ultimately failed, but 47 percent of the state's voters supported the initiative, which would have shifted money from criminal drug enforcement to programs focusing on prevention and treatment.

Backers of the proposed alcohol tax say a comprehensive state treatment program could gain more support if it can be funded without taking resources away from law enforcement efforts.

Many state officials have for years been calling for more prevention and treatment of substance abuse. A 1995 study by the state court system, for example, cited a "compelling" need for "a coordinated comprehensive substance abuse policy for the Commonwealth" because judges and probation officials often had nowhere to send drug and alcohol abusers for treatment.

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, a vocal opponent of Question 8, said last week that the state "absolutely needs to do more on treatment across the board."

Reilly stopped short of endorsing Walsh's tax proposal, however, as did officials at the state Department of Public Health.

"Would we like to focus more on prevention and treatment? Absolutely," DPH Deputy Commissioner Paul Jacobsen said. "But we are not in the business of telling anyone when taxes should be raised."

Robert Downing, a Beverly consultant for Join Together, a coalition of social service groups that support increased prevention and treatment efforts, said proponents will try to make the case that prevention and treatment efforts are cost effective.

Walsh said she is lining up support from more than 40 groups to support the proposal. Still, she said, getting it through her committee will be a "major accomplishment."

It was unclear last week how legislative leaders view the proposal. Charles Rasmussen, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's spokesman, said Finneran had not studied the proposal enough to comment. Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham was in California and could not be reached.

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