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Boston City Council rejects tax on alcohol sales

The City Council today overwhelmingly rejected a proposal by councilors Frank Baker (Dorchester) and Bill Linehan (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, downtown) to add a 2% tax on liquor sales to fund addiction treatment programs.

Council President Michelle Wu joined Baker and Linehan in voting for the tax; the other 10 councilors voted against.

Baker, who rarely speaks at council meetings, and Linehan both gave impassioned pleas for the $20 million they said the measure would raise to help alcoholics and drug users break their addictions.

They said Boston needs to do something at a time when addiction rates are on the rise and suburbs keep sending their addicts to Boston, taking up what relatively few treatment beds the city has available.

Baker, whose father battled alcoholism, said the money could pay for mandatory 30-day "lockdown" beds, which would help addicts get past the five-day drying out period now more typical in recovery units, which only leaves addicts "sick in the head and sick in the stomach," he said.

And he said Boston and local recovery programs need to "stop coming up with bullshit names for things," such as trying to recast Methadone Mile as Recovery Road.

Linehan said the tax would fall heavily on big-spending tourists, not residents, and that Boston needs to start coming up with revenue sources that do not include increasing property taxes.

Linehan also tallied up the costs of addiction on everything from police and fire departments to schools.

"Think of 'The Night of the Living Dead," Linehan said. "That virus they have in the movie makes them want to bite somebody else. ... This is a progressive disease. ... The gift of sobriety to our city is what this bill would do to us. And next Christmas would be a better Christmas."

But Councilor Ayanna Pressley (at large), whose father was addicted to opioids, said the measure was simply too vague. Pressley said she's not opposed to such a tax but that one thing she's learned in 23 years in government - 8 as an elected official - is that "good intentions and more money do not solve problems," that the city needs specific plans before she would vote for any sort of addiction-related tax increase.

She added, "Boston should not uniquely bear the entire burden for an issue that is affecting the entire state."

Pressley and councilors Annissa Essaibi-George (at large) and Tito Jackson (Roxbury) agreed that it would be unfair to burden local residents and small businesses with a tax to solve a problem that is statewide and national in scope.

"This isn't a battle we can fight alone," Essaibi-George said. "We need other cities and towns, the state, and the federal government, to step up. ... I will not lay that burden on the backs of our small business owners before others step up."

Essaibi-George and Jackson aid Gov. Baker should be ashamed of himself for cutting nearly $2 million from addiction services last week.

Other councilors did not speak before voting.

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Comments

The equivalent of taxing cheese to pay for traffic enforcement. One has nothing to do with the other.

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You'd have to be some kind of crazy person to think that sales of alcohol have anything to do with alcoholism. Talk about apples and oranges!

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You'd have to be some kind of crazy person to think that sales of alcohol have anything to do with opioid addiction.

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And you'd have to be some kind of heartless person to not want to help try to stem the cripplingly awful heroin epidemic over literally pennies on the dollar. I guess you really just want 50 beers for $300 instead of the 49 you would've gotten if such a tax was implemented. Sláinte!

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or he goes to next town over to buy it and lose sales and the tax.

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Dr. Daniel Amen has done research on what alcohol and drugs to do brain cells. Its worth researching.

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Sure, I'd love to help, but I don't know why I'm being singled out because I like to drink wine. Why not a beef tax? A subway tax? Drinking has nothing to do with the opioid epidemic.

Using the "it's only 2%" argument is silly. If this is such a horrific issue that you're worried about, will you pay addition state income tax this year in the hopes that the additional revenue will be used to fight it? Are you willing to pay an additional 1% property tax?

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"If this is such a horrific issue that you're worried about, will you pay addition state income tax this year in the hopes that the additional revenue will be used to fight it?"

You did read the bit where Charlie Fixit already cut spending, right? Anyway, paying taxes isn't like playing Plinko, where you just sort of hope the tax dollar ends up in the coffer you prefer.

"Are you willing to pay an additional 1% property tax?"

Sure. In fact I voted for a property tax increase for something a lot less important just one month ago. It certainly makes the tax slightly less regressive, and there's more of a link to heroin abuse and having your (taxed) property broken into than there is to heroin abuse and alcohol abuse, so it's win-win.

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I don't feel responsible for helping people who by-in-large made their own poor decisions in life. Oh gawd I'm starting to sound like a (R) :(

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'Cause addiction is a personal failing like diabetes, heart disease, brain tumors, etc.

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Type 2 diabetes is highly influenced by lifestyle. Very few people who eat well and maintain healthy weight will get it. Heart disease also can be influenced by lifestyle.

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But in any case, you do realize there's another type of diabetes that isn't related in the slightest to lifestyle, right? And that there are types of heart disease that are not related to lifestyle, either?

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Type 2 diabetes can also be due to genetic predisposition (but lifestyle issues may increase the likelihood of developing it):

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/causes

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I had a 32-year old coworker, thin, fit, ate decent food all the time, hereditary Type 2.

It isn't the majority of cases by any stretch, but it isn't something she was able to avoid even knowing her family history.

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Especially since these personal choices have much bigger social ills in the form of hepatitis (and the incredible expensive costs of treatment/medicine), crime, and other negative externalities. How do you suggest we limit these "poor decisions" to only impacting that one person within a vacuum?

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Better diets for two, which hopefully leads to a more healthy lifestyle that will keep you out of the doctor's office, which I suspect is how most people are getting hooked on pills and opioids now days.

Are some people predisposed to bad choices be it alcohol, drugs, or whatever else, yes. But I still don't think we should all be taxed to help remedy the situation. Prevention, is a thousand times better than treatment. I support prevention techniques more so than treatment. Sounds like I'm writing off an entire subset of culture but overdoses are growing nation wide and will only grow further unless we keep new folks from getting hooked in the first place.

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I guess you really just want 50 beers for $300 instead of the 49 you would've gotten if such a tax was implemented.

Thinking like this is part of the problem. I suppose I'm only speaking as one person, but as someone who was opposed to the tax, it had nothing to do with the few extra cents and everything to do with how the city and state have screwed substance abuse programs–I again beat the proverbial dead horse and refer you to the Long Island debacle. That bridge didn't deteriorate overnight, and the city knew exactly what it was doing and why (cough cough olympics cough).

Between that and the state doing nothing to deter other cities from sending people here, or even stepping in to help squash the (undoubtedly overplayed) beef between Quincy and Boston over the bridge, plus a lack of substantial support to "mainland" organizations who were overwhelmed when this all went down, I have zero inclination to give the city any more money to not actually do anything with.

Give me some competent leadership that actually gets shit done and cares about the community, and you can stick a 2% tax on whatever you'd like. Until then, maybe B. Good should be paying a 2% tax on every order.

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Why does that make any sense? Go after and tax the pharma/bio-tech companies that started this in the first place. They have record profits, I am sure they have enough to fund the services needed to help in this crisis caused when their customers get hooked and turn to heroin for their fix.

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Seems you can't impose sales taxes on prescription drugs - like OxyContin.

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taxing prescriptions is stupid. obviously medical expenses aren't high enough in this country, right?

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They are not independent of one another.

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Candice_Contet/publication/8513626_...

It would be like taxing cheese for traffic control in the vicinity of a Cabot Cheddar plant.

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Personally I don't think I should subsidize alcohol addiction treatment so glad this didn't pass. Hate to sound cold but if you have a problem it's up to you (and your loved ones) to get help.

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Than pay for the consequences of not subsidizing treatment.

For starters, treatment is a hell of a lot cheaper. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatme...

According to several conservative estimates, every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft. When savings related to healthcare are included, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12 to 1.

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go through (expensive,often subsidized by the public sector) rehab MANY times. Don't kid yourself: Addiction treatment is a big and profitable business.

And another thing: how are druggies and alcoholics chosen for spots at these limited facilities? Many come from families with POLITICAL CONNECTIONS.

And, as has been pointed out, Boston gets shit on by suburban and rural areas that simply export their problems to the nearest big city. F this shit, it has to stop.

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I can't figure out.. are you for this or not?

Because you make two points.

how are druggies and alcoholics chosen for spots at these limited facilities?

Ding ding ding. Yeah we have limited beds.. which is why we need more of them so people who are not connected politically can have them.

And, as has been pointed out, Boston gets shit on by suburban and rural areas that simply export their problems to the nearest big city.

Right again. Which is why a larger consortium needs to be done for this that encompasses most of the towns in Eastern MA to work TOGETHER on this. Dumping these folks on other towns isn't the right thing to do either.

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and have gotten in the past. MILLIONS and MILLIONS are spent on this problem that actually affects a pretty limited number of people....yet, all I have ever heard is '...we need more $'; where exactly is most of the current funds allocated? Is it feeding the ravenous appetite the 'private' rehab industry has?

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This isn't a stagnant issue where funding is "enough"... it's a growing problem that keeps on getting bigger. (Link to US News and Report data). If it was stagnant issue, you would have a point, but 15 years, we've seen a THREE FOLD on addiction going up.

But since it's not a stagnant issue, so more money is needed.

And "Limited Number of People" really? It's time to get out of your bubble. Happy to show you around Chelsea and the square area. We'll take a ride on the 111 and watch numerous people nod off. Or we can walk by the methadone clinic on Clark Ave and you can see the line out the door. This is not a "limited number of people" anymore. I know more people who have turned into opiate addicts in the past 10 years.. well frankly. I just stopped counting now because it's just so high.

You also seem to think... "feeding the ravenous appetite the 'private' rehab industry has"

You make it seem like there's money to be made off the addiction process. Um no.

You're confusing the kinds of centers. There's basically two.. ones that you PAY to go to (or your insurance might pay for). And ones the state sends you too because it gets a subsidy from the state.

The ones you PAY.. are for the connected and rich. Places like Betty Ford and the Mayo Clinic. These places don't take anyone, nor get any subsidies from the government them. They are medical institutions that are for profit.

And then there's the other kind.. the ones subsidized by the state. Some are run by private non profits, and some are run by City Health Commissions such as BPHC. Some of these places are over capacity, never any empty beds, poor conditions. Sorry you don't go here unless you're sent here or you don't have any other place to go. It's THIS type that they are looking to give money to.. not the Betty Ford type places.

And like other posters have said, we're down alot of beds since the Long Island Shelter closed. We need more beds.

And one more thing, as someone who has worked in this industry. I invite you to walk into some of the publicly run ones. You won't see stained glass, wall to wall carpet, expensive furnishings, staff everywhere to help people... you won't see that at all. You'll see facilities in not so desirable parts of town, in old buildings that look like they haven't been touched since the Carter Administration. Staff is stretched thin (along with high turnover because of stress). Management that doesn't have enough funds to provide care to everyone so they cut elsewhere (usually staff). And I'm only scratching the surface. Some of these places are pretty bad. But due to too many patients, not enough staff, and not enough funding, they are terrible.

PS - You might want to watch A Scanner Darkly. Pretty much describes your viewpoint. Which is incorrect. I love a big conspiracy theory just like the next guy but this one is too far fetched.

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Hat's off to Cybah.

Words whose eloquence is only exceeded by their truth!

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You do sound like a republican.

You obviously have never had someone in your life have an addiction problem or even know about the addiction treatment system. A lot of these people "can't ask for help" because the addiction take over.

Let me buy you an a few ounces of heroin, my treat. But you gotta do it every day for a few months. After few months or so, we'll see where you are at... I bet you have a "problem" but are so engrossed into your addiction that it's no longer up to you to decide if you help. The addiction has taken over.

Then we can let you go thru the treatment system.. you know, that health insurance policy you have probably won't cover all of your treatment (or may not cover at all). So you're stuck paying out of pocket.. oh wait, you've lost your job to your addiction so you can't pay. Oh that's too bad... So as you say "Make your loved ones pay for it". Right. By this point, you've probably already borrowed cash, lied, and stolen, for your addiction. Your loved ones aren't going to help you.

Oh and btw.. it could be weeks or months before you get into a treatment program because they are so back logged right now.

So what do you do now? Succumb to your addiction and probably end up on the streets of Boston. So now who pays for you?

You have no income because you have no job
You have no family that will help anymore
You probably don't have health insurance
You probably don't even have a place to live and haven't had a decent meal in weeks

So who pays for you?

The tax payers do. Yeah even if they don't up the 2% in taxes for this,you and every other tax payer in this state (and this country if you increase the scope) pay for addiction issues, either in law enforcement, the judicial system, healthcare (medicaid/MassHealth), Family Services, Therapies, etc etc etc.. just about any and all parts of our state pays with your tax dollars.

And even if you take that out of equation, you still end up paying. Why? Because if they go to treatment or ER rooms or other health services to get any sort of treatment (even if it is not becoming sober).. you end up paying anyways because they don't have the money to pay the bill. The rest of us have to make up the difference either in high prices at doctors offices or in our insurance plans.

Oh and when you die from an overdose, we still pay for it too. Not only for the police, fire, and ambulance presence. That narcan they tried to revive with costs money. Then you die anyways on your way to the ER (that you had no insurance for so we pay for it). And your family, who pretty much has disowned you now because of your addiction.... sooo who picks up the body? No one. State might do an autopsy, which the tax payers pay for, and if no one picks up the body, you get cremated, at the tax payers expense.

See where I am going with this? 2% or no 2% .. you end up paying for other people's addictions no matter which way you turn. And even still, many treatment programs are heavily subsidized by the state anyways, so you pay either way.

It's a novelty to think "well it's your issue, you put the needle in your arm", but in the end drug addiction becomes everyone's problem. Not just the addicts.

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Now I'll go on record to state.. I've said "it's your choice to do drugs" in the past and I still do. I get tired of picking up needles off my steps, or seeing the same sad drugged out faces nodding off on the bus. I'm tired of seeing these people dragging down my community because of their drug issues.

However, I, myself am addict. Sure it wasn't heroin, but cocaine. But the addiction and recovery cycle is the same. I know how hard it is get off of drugs, especially when you are engraved with it. I may have gotten out of the whole scene many years ago before opiates really took off, but I watch many people i know battle these addictions. And I know that even though *I* thought I had a rough time getting off of coke, heroin is much worse. They need all the help they can get if they want it.

But because of my experience with addiction, I tend to have a bit of sympathy for many people who do have addiction issues. Now I have very little for the folks I see nodding off, or the career drug users who really don't want help.. but I do have sympathy for people who DO. Those people do want help, and should get it without worry how they are going to pay for it.

I'm not in support of this 2%, just another tax. And I agree with whoever said that this apart of a much larger problem, and it shouldn't fall on the residents/visitors of Boston to pay for it.

The irony I find with this is.. they will entertain a 2% tax on booze.. yet will fight tooth and nail to prevent pot shops from opening. Ones who would sell pot at a much larger tax rate than 2%. It just doesn't make sense. And considering the shortage of treatment beds Boston has.. we need as many as we can get our hands on.

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Preach it, Cybah!

I also tire enormously at how the same people who fought to keep an addiction clinic out of my community are the very same people who bitch and moan continuously about the addicts leaving their detritus around after dark, breaking into cars, nodding off downtown. Um, folks: bed made lie.

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Thanks. My English sucks. I really need to switch to Word for these elongated replies.

But I'm fired up. I've worked in human service. I'm an addict myself. I know so many people who have been ruined by drugs and addiction. I've also been thru the treatment system myself. And yeah this was 15+ years ago, but the system hasn't changed. And many of these services were not very good back then, I cannot imagine what they are like now being filled to the brim now.

And now we have an incoming administration who I see will undo all of this, and I'm very angry about this. Why? because these folks do not see it will undo the fabric of our country. We will become a nation of crime and drug addicted people because many of the taxpayer provided treatment services will go away. Sure they can "clamp down on drug dealers" and whatever.. it still won't stop it. Even in countries where drugs are totally barred, addiction still exists. (Read Vice sometime, lots of interesting stories about what it's like to do drugs in places like Iran and Russia.) So you can never really eradicate it. It's best just to help people who succumb to addiction as much as possible with barrier free treatment services.

This is also why I'll never understand why we're so dead set against nationalized healthcare. It would help so much with drug addiction treatment because it removes a barrier to treatment.. cost. I mean we end up paying peripherally anyways, so why not just do it right? And this argument can be used for non-addicts too.. if uninsured people start going to the ER as their PCP and don't pay their bills.. we end up paying for them anyways. You can spin this any way you want but in the end, unless a big change happens.. we pay for them any way so why not do it right?

But I digress and that's another topic for another day.

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First she votes against city council having a 4 year term saving us money and now she wanted to vote for a tax increase. Well, maybe she wouldn't need to consider more taxes if she voted for a 4 year term. I used to be a strong supporter but not so much anymore! I am sure Tito Jackson, John Connolly and Ayanna Pressley would fair better than her for a run for mayor next year!

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run for Mayor next year!!!

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Councilor Wu is a keeper! One of the few, I'm sure who was not bought off by the alcohol industry

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His heart was totally in the right place (Linehan) but this was the wrong way to address the problem(s), in my opinion.

It's not "Boston's" problem to solve - it's (as my good friend cybah says) an Eastern MA problem (and, nationwide, too). Yeah, we can do our part - which we do, with beds, treatment centers, etc. - MONEY. But, this seemed off, to me.

We tax liquor stores to offset alcohol addictions, convenience stores to offset nicotine addictions, and casinos to offset gambling addictions. Maybe we should tax pharmacies since that's where the Oxy comes from ...

I thought the other city councilors might give Mr. Linehan the votes he wanted - this might very well be his last act in his current role!

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if you live in Boston, IT IS your problem to solve --just like if you live in another town, you need to join with others in the town to solve it there. Its called taking responsibility

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Of course it is Boston's problem.. along with Cambridge, Somerville, Malden, Medford, Everett, Revere, Brookline, Quincy, Braintree..........

But it becomes only a Boston problem because those other towns dump everyone on Boston. There needs to be a consortium of towns to work together on the issue. Not make Boston residents and visitors pay for towns who refuse to help.

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We now send our addicts across the State because we lost over a hundred beds when the Long Island bridge closed. Boston needs more resources for Boston. There is not enough places where Boston residents can go for both short-term and long-treatment And guess what, because people drink in excess in all Boston neighborhoods and college campuses, there is a need for more programs.

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