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City council makes pitch for 2 percent alcohol tax

Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan.
Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff)

City Councilor Bill Linehan is making a major pitch this week to get his colleagues to pass a special 2 percent tax on alcohol sold in Boston — proceeds from which would go toward treating substance abuse.

“We are going to turn up the heat,’’ said Linehan, who co-sponsored the measure with Councilor Frank Baker and plans to do a full-court press before Wednesday’s vote. “This will be the last push during our last day of the sessions to get people to a ‘Come to Jesus’ [moment] on the matter.’’

The proposal aims to generate $20 million in revenue to aid treatment, prevention, and intervention for substance abusers. The plan comes amid a state opioid crisis.

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The councilors had raised the matter last year and held hearings, but they retreated due to lack of support and criticism about taxing alcohol, an already regulated commodity. This year, it is unclear whether Linehan and Baker have enough votes to guarantee the bill’s passage.

Frank Anzalotti, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, reiterated his group’s opposition to the measure, saying he will bring retailers to a hearing Tuesday to speak out against it.

“Obviously we oppose this. The reason being is that they are targeting one industry to help pay for the problems and the shortfalls in other areas,’’ said Anzalotti, whose group represents a coalition of about 2,000 alcohol vendors statewide, including hundreds in Boston. “It’s not fair to retailers, restaurants or bars. It’s going to drive business out of the city and into the suburbs, and I don’t think that is what the city boston Wants to be.”

Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said members of his organization are concerned about people in the grips of addiction, but he worries about the impact the potential tax will have on the industry.

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“I give them all the credit in the world for trying help with the opioid crisis, which is a great one,’’ Luz said. “We just don’t think that this is the right venue to come after for funding for that.”

To become effective, the matter needs approval from the council, mayor and state. Mayor Martin J. Walsh will review the measure if it gets to his desk, his press office said.

Linehan said the proposed 2 percent tax is not as significant as the lives that can be saved or changed as a result of it.

Many city councilors did not respond to inquiries Friday on how they would vote.

Councilor Andrea Campbell said she had not yet made up her mind, and Councilor Tito Jackson said he has reservations.

“I have some strong concerns about the potential impact the alcohol tax will have on one of our most important industry in the city of Boston, which is the hospitality industry … and the potential negative effect the alcohol tax could have on an industry that employs thousands in the city,’’ said Jackson, who did not say how he would vote.

Anzalotti said he plans to fight the measure before the vote Wednesday.

“I’m concerned that they’ve done this again,’’ he said. “I think we’ll have a strong argument and I’m confident this will not go through.”

Linehan, whose district includes South Boston and Chinatown, is also planning a show of support next week with elected officials on City Hall Plaza.

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Since last year, Linehan and Baker worked to win over support on their proposal, including releasing a detailed list of what could be accomplished with $20 million in specially earmarked local revenue: 24-hour addiction-outreach coordinators, $11 million for city shelters, and $4 million for therapeutic support.

“As you walk down Methadone Mile, for many, substance abuse is the anchor around their necks,’’ Linehan said. “We want to create licensed professionals to help them get off the streets.”

The councilors said addiction and substance abuse services are sorely underfunded and urged the council to lead the challenge against addiction.


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.