Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Defining Necessity

Dear Vic DiGravio, Treasurer - Committee Against Repeal of the Alcohol Tax,

I got my Massachusetts Information for Voters pamphlet yesterday, and I saw your position on the statewide ballot question that will be on this November's election ballot here in Massachusetts:  Should there be a law to remove the state sales tax on alcoholic beverages and alcohol, where the sale of such beverages and alcohol or their importation into the state is already subject to a separate excise tax under state law?

I have to say, even though I'm pretty much for eliminating the tax because I'd like my beer, wine, and liquor to be a little cheaper, I don't exactly buy the whole "double tax" argument presented by the Frank Anzalotti from the Committee To Repeal the Alcohol Sales Tax.  See, I'm a recent transplant from Chicago, and even though the locals like to call this state "Taxachusetts," I laugh at them.  Sales tax?!  You don't know what sales tax is until it hits 10.25%!  And then for booze, let's add more on for liquor taxes!  6.25%?! I laugh at how cheap that is!

However, Mr. DiGravio, your argument does less to convince me to vote no:
Alcohol is not a necessity and does not deserve a special tax exemption.  The only goods in Massachusetts exempt from the sales tax are necessities like food, clothing, and prescriptions.  If anything should be taxed, products like cigarettes and alcohol should be.
Let's stop right there.  Not a necessity?  Have you seen the wine brand "Mommy's Time Out"?  The people behind the wine didn't come up with that because moms never need to take the edge off every now and then.  Those of us who aren't moms can vouch--life can be stressful, and a responsible drink every now and then is quite refreshing.  Not all of us are boozehounds.....should we pay the price?

Now let's take a look at what you claim are necessities:

  • food:  Not necessary if you're anorexic!  Or, if you think I'm being too harsh, let's look at the obesity rate.  Maybe if we started taxing food, we wouldn't eat so much.
  • clothing:  Not necessary if you're a nudist!
  • prescriptions:  How many prescriptions are lifestyle drugs?  Or drugs for conditions that could totally be prevented due to poor lifestyle?  I've heard countless stories about people who've lost weight and are shocked and excited to discover that they no longer have to take their blood pressure medication.  That prescription then is a lifestyle choice.  You choose not to lose weight; you take a prescription.  If alcohol is taxed because it's a lifestyle choice, shouldn't these prescriptions be taxed as well?
You claim that revenues from the alcohol tax provide funding for healthcare services for alcohol and drug abuse.  And that Massachusetts has some of the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse in the country.  And that this tax helps save lives by reducing teen drinking.  Isn't teen drinking a parenting problem?  I'm also against drug use--why does my alcohol tax have to pay for drug abuse treatment and prevention?  Start taxing prescriptions (since I'd bet that a fair amount of drug abuse is prescription abuse)!

Then you end with the old, Everyone else does the sales + excise tax, so we should too.  Massachusetts should dare to be different!  The American Revolution started here, for crying out loud!  Let's revolutionize how tax money is collected and spent!

In addition, you say, we've got a big budget deficit, so if you take away this tax, we'll be in worse shape.  No worse than hurting small business owners by taking my money to New Hampshire to buy liquor and wine (tax-free), I'm sure.

You lost me, Vic.  Question is, did you lose other Massachusetts voters too?

Your pal,

1 comment:

  1. Nice balanced view Jill. You strike me as a reasonable person.

    The misinformation being spread around this issue is a little laughable - yet we've seen in the past that misinformation can be effective. Remember the wine in grocery issue a few years ago?

    The bottle line for me is that if we want to curb excessive alcohol income we should take it on volume rather than on cost. The way to do that is to increase the excise tax.

    Once in place, sin taxes have a way of escalating irrationally any time more tax revenue is needed. The right thing to do is determine what an appropriate tax level is for alcohol and stick to it. Has the appropriate taxation level for alcohol changed suddenly? Or has the state's need for tax revenue changed suddenly due to the economy? I would argue it's the latter.