Question 1 in Massachusetts: What Does It Mean?

(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) With six days to go before Election Day, legislators and addiction-services advocates gathered Wednesday to urge voters to reject Massachusetts Question 1, the ballot measure that would repeal imposition of the state sales tax on beer, wine and liquor.

Foes say Question 1 would slash $110 million in annual funding for treating drug addicts and alcoholics. "It's earmarked specifically for families and support programs to clean up the mess the industry has created,'' said State Senator Steven Tolman, a Democrat from Brighton.

State Representative Liz Malia of Boston's Jamaica Plain section said after her own struggles with drink and drugs, she's been sober for nearly 25 years. "It would be so unbelievably irresponsible to not maintain this tax,'' she said, in order to fund state addiction-treatment services "to keep people alive.''

Supporters of Question 1 say they fully support substance-abuse treatment. What they oppose was legislators' vote last year to extend, beginning Jan. 1 of this year, the state 6.25 percent sales tax to cover alcohol purchases, on top of longstanding excise taxes that amount to about 11 cents a gallon of beer, 55 cents a gallon of wine, and $4.05 per gallon of hard liquor. (Info from

Ben Weiner, who with his brother owns four Sav-Mor package stores just north of Boston, says, "We're all willing to pay our fair share of taxes, but when you tax a product twice, that's just unfair.''

On a 1.75-liter bottle of Absolut Vodka in Weiner's McGrath Highway package store in Somerville, the total price is $34.99. According to Weiner, about 40 percent -- or $14 -- is combined state and federal alcohol excise taxes baked into the price. As a result of last year's sales tax vote, someone buying that bottle of vodka now pays another $2.18 in sales tax at the cash register.

State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat who joined in the No-on-1 press event at the Church On The Hill Wednesday, is among many critics who question why alcohol was ever exempted from the state sales tax in the years before 2010 in the first place. "We carve out exceptions" from the sales tax "for basic life necessities, groceries, basic clothing. Alcohol is simply not a basic life necessity,'' Chang-Diaz said.

But store owners like Weiner, especially those close to the New Hampshire border where rival package stores have no sales tax, and ballot-question strategists like P. J. Foster of the Yes On One Committee, say what is coming Tuesday is a chance for voters to repeal an excessive tax. (The latest Boston Globe poll had question 1 losing 52-37, but with many voters still undecided, and experts said in a volatile political year like this when it's unclear just who will turn out to vote and in what numbers, you can't rule out a late surge in favor of Question 1. The presence of Question 3 -- cutting the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent -- on the ballot at the same time is bringing lots of attention to the overall question of sales taxes in the Bay State and firing up both tax foes and big-business and public-sector-union groups worried about the fiscal impacts of tax cuts.)

"This tax hurts the consumer, and it's hurting small business,'' Foster said. "Consumers, in a time of economic trouble, are feeling a second pinch, which is this second tax, this double tax on alcohol.''

Weiner, whose store on busy Route 28 has a sign urging passing motorists to vote yes on Question 1, said, "We're doing this as representatives of our customers and our industry.''

With videographer John J. Hammann

Contact Us