Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hey Massachusetts! Tax Alcohol!

As of yesterday, Massachusetts raised taxes on gas and cigarettes again. Honestly, I don't have much of a problem with this. It certainly doesn't affect me much, as I don't smoke or drive a car. Further, as gasoline is subsidized by federal tax dollars, contributing to absurd profits for oil companies and making it so even with the tax, gas is still cheaper here than in Europe, it's hard to complain. I'm certainly not going to defend cigarettes, either. They're gross, cause cancer, are the source of litter in gutters near bars everywhere, and frankly, I hope the tax deters my neighbors from smoking so I don't have to breathe that garbage as it wafts in my bedroom window at night from their late night porch smoking.

These are taxed.
The issue here is that these two products keep getting tax increases while other things remain untouched. The number one culprit in Massachusetts? Alcohol.

For those who don't remember, Massachusetts had a brief-but-bitter affair with alcohol taxes, which were ultimately overturned in early 2011 by voters, who apparently think that alcohol, as a sort of consumable, should be taxed like food (not at all) rather than a vice (a lot). I voted against repealing the alcohol tax in 2010, and I still oppose it now. It's not because I think we should deter drinking, either. I'm not sure cost is much of a deterrent. If it were, people would stop using cocaine rather than living their own private Less Than Zero lives. Rather, the reason support taxing alcohol is that you don't need it to live or be a citizen. In Massachusetts, in the tradition of the Commonwealth's founding, we do not tax food, clothing, or periodicals. As such, one can be fed, clothed, and informed without paying the state anything. The consumption of alcohol (which I'm a huger fan of than I should be) provides no benefits to any of these natural or civic necessities.

These are not taxed.
See what I'm saying?
We live in a state where we pay a 6.25% tax on books - the things we spend millions of dollars annually to encourage children to use. Meanwhile, we spend tax dollars and volunteer hours through programs like D.A.R.E., M.A.D.D. and S.A.D.D. trying to dissuade young people from abusing alcohol, not to mention the cost of treating alcoholism and alcohol-related medical problems to the state. How does it make sense that we tax beneficial things like books, and even necessary things like housing, but allow this one vice a free pass while demonizing others like cigarettes and criminalizing other drugs?

At this point, I want to discourage readers from drawing the conclusion that I'm arguing that we should repeal taxes on books or houses. I am not doing that. I don't like paying taxes, but I do like infrastructure. I went to public schools, I use public roads and public transportation, and I'm a big fan of having police and fire departments readily available. I'm arguing in favor of equal treatment, or at the very least, treatment based on societal benefits. Raising cigarette prices through taxes didn't cause convenience stores to close, nor did banning their sale at pharmacies cause pharmacies to close. On the contrary, Downtown Boston actually got a pharmaceutical super store after that ban (which is stupid, but certainly implies at least one pharmacy chain isn't struggling from the pressure of lost cigarette revenues). Books are beneficial and they are taxed. Alcohol is decidedly not beneficial, or at least no more beneficial than board games, iPads, or purses, and yet it carries no tax.

To extrapolate on this further. Clothing isn't taxed. Accessories are. You do need pants. You don't need a briefcase. To the same effect, you do need a sandwich. You do not need a beer.

As it currently stands, the people of Massachusetts' voices were heard, and as a result, we have a totally arbitrary exemption on one vice while another is taxed excessively. Moreover, items of higher value to society are taxed, while one that is protected by special interests who effectively lobbied on its behalf. This was a mistake and it should be remedied. Pass a new tax on alcohol.


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Anonymous said...

I don't think Alcohol should be taxed but I do think bars should be banned.
That is the real scandal system our corrupt criminal justice system allows bars to exist which encourages people to get drunk away from home knowing they are going to have to drive home afterwards.
Some of them get pulled over, which funds our court system with thousands of dollars per year - some of them kill innocent children - and some of them make it home THIS TIME to repeat it again.

It's by design. You see police cars sitting outside bars since they are just waiting to cash in on the criminals they created, while ignoring the actual violent criminals.