Why the Alcohol Sales Tax is a Good Idea for Public Health—and for Massachusetts
[guest blog post from the United We Stand For Public Health Coalition]
Public health funding in Massachusetts is already in crisis, even before the further cuts planned for the coming year. The $32 million cut from public health this fiscal year has meant loss of Early Intervention services to 3000 young children, over $6 million in cuts to immunizations, cuts to the State Laboratory (critical to responding to H1N1), and over $3 million in cuts to substance abuse services—to choose a few examples out of many.
In the next fiscal year, public health is slated to lose an additional $52 - $79 million. While no programs can expect to be unscathed in this economy, public health is bearing far more than its share of the burden, although the Senate voted to mitigate some of the harshest cuts.
Now, one of the big questions before the Legislature’s Conference Committee on next year’s budget is whether to tax alcohol sold in stores. These sales are currently exempt from tax—which speaks to alcohol industry influence rather than to sound fiscal or health policy.
The Senate supported ending the sales tax exemption on alcohol sold in stores, and using the revenue to fund a number of public health programs such as substance abuse treatment, Early Intervention, violence and suicide prevention, and other programs threatened by budget cuts. These programs are not only essential but also highly cost-effective for the state. Substance abuse treatment, for example, increases employment and reduces criminal activity and homelessness.
The Conference Committee, the full Legislature and the Governor should do the same. Why?
- Massachusetts needs the money—and so does public health. In this fiscal year and the next, public health funding will be cut up to 19%, according to the Legislature’s and Governor’s proposed budgets. Without funds from the alcohol tax, the cuts would be even worse. The alcohol sales tax will raise between $80 million and $115 million overall for the state.
- Massachusetts has among the nation’s highest rates of alcohol and other drug dependence and abuse.
- Research shows that raising alcohol prices reduces underage drinking and binge drinking, violence towards children, traffic accidents, and even sexually transmitted diseases.
- Ending the alcohol tax exemption will bring Massachusetts in line with the rest of the country. Massachusetts is one of only six states that don’t tax alcohol sold in stores.
For all these reasons, the time has come for the alcohol sales tax. Our coalition is focused on supporting resources for public health programs. We support new revenues, and most of our members specifically support the alcohol tax for its positive public health effects and in order to dedicate funds to public health. We hope the state’s leaders share our concern for the health of Commonwealth residents. We ask them to stop exempting alcohol from the sales tax, and to support the highest possible levels of funding for public health.