BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick plans to begin immediately exploring options to replace as much as $43 million in funding for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs that will be lost once the repeal of the state's alcohol sales tax takes effect.
Calling the programs "enormously important," Patrick told reporters yesterday that he hoped to find a way to fully fund those programs in fiscal year 2011, despite losing six months of anticipated revenue from the sales tax after the repeal takes effect in January.
Voters approved a rollback of the 6.25 percent sales tax on alcohol at the ballot box earlier this month, delivering relief to consumers and retailers and cutting off funding to the state's substance abuse treatment and prevention programs that had been funded in this year's budget with dedicated revenue from the tax.
Patrick told reporters that he had a meeting planned later in the afternoon with Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez to discuss the implementation of the alcohol tax repeal and options for fully funding substance abuse treatment programs through the fiscal year.
He said holding those line items harmless would likely require finding an additional $43 million.
"I'm committed to finding a solution. I just don't have the solution," Patrick said.
The state budget for fiscal 2011 earmarked revenue from the 6.25 percent sales tax on alcohol for state-sponsored substance abuse treatment and prevention programs. The state collected $97 million over the final 10 months of fiscal 2010 after the tax hike went into effect. That total had projected to increase to $111 million in fiscal 2011.
Asked whether he would consider raising the excise tax on beer and alcohol to offset the loss in sales tax revenue, Patrick said he hadn't even considered that an option until the possibility was raised to him by alcohol distributors.
"I don't have any such plans," Patrick said, adding, "Please don't write that it's on the table, because it's not something I've given any thought to."
During the campaign to repeal the alcohol tax, package store owners and beer distributors accused the state of double dipping on their product by levying a new tax on a product that is already taxed through a state excise tax. The excise tax on a gallon of beer in Massachusetts is 11 cents, compared with 30 cents in New Hampshire where there is no sales tax.