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Councilors propose city alcohol tax to fund substance-abuse programs

City councilors Bill Linehan (South Boston, South End, Chinatown) and Frank Baker (Dorchester) will try for legislative approval to let Boston charge up to a 2% tax on sales of alcohol in local liquor stores and restaurants as a way to curb substance abuse in the city.

The two will ask the council tomorrow to start the ball rolling on their proposal, which they say would not only help alcoholics and addicts but the city as a whole by reducing the amount of crime related to substance abuse.

If the rest of the council agrees, a council committee will hold a hearing on the proposal, after which the council would vote on it.

The council's regular Wednesday session begins at noon in its fifth-floor chambers in City Hall.

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Comments

and why aren't we legalizing pot to provide the same 'sales tax' revenue for this also?

A pot sales tax would be a big windfall for funding of treatment centers across the state.

Why aren't we doing this?

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I am so sick of hearing about marijuana that I just want them to get it overwith and legalize and tax just so I can stop hearing stoners relate pot to literally every issue ever as the miracle plant that will solve all the world's problems instantly.

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Sorry! I am not one of those people.. just see legalizing pot as a new revenue stream. :)

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Yeah I know what you were getting at, but this shit gets really annoying quick. Anytime a politician takes questions from the public, the biggest thing is always about mj, and almost always from youth. Getting this over with would hopefully shift the focus to more important issues for youth to be informed on. Or they will just not vote because their single issue is no longer relevant, who knows.

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Thank you for pointing this out -- I'm sick of hearing about it as well! Not in favor of legalizing it tho... know too many stoners who were once productive and jnteresting people. Now all they want to talk about is how awesome the weed they smoked last night was. Boring. Smells nasty too!

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If those are your arguments for prohibition then you should really be in favor of legalization.

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After all, it's no worse than nicotine, and whens the last time you heard of someone going on a pot fueled violent rampage?

Split the funds 50/50 to substance abuse recovery based on medicine and science, and infrastructure / low income jobs programs.

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Woo woo is truly ingrained in our culture right now. People will still claim that it cures everything, evidence be damned. Colloidal silver isn't illegal, after all, and people still yammer about that ...

If we have more funding for science education as a result of taxing marijuana, maybe it will go away?

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Worst thing they ever did was legalize pot. It is so easy to get it now and the cops do not endorse it. I am always seeing people driving while puffing the magic dragon.

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You didn't mention anything actually negative.

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Yes Alaska, that beacon of Progressivism that can see Russia from its front porch, has legalized pot before Massachusetts.

We should legalize it then control it's sale much like NH state liquor stores.

It's maddening the amount of potential tax revenue that's out there. Not to mention the benefit of undercutting illegal dealers, forcing them out of the bud business with nary a shot fired.

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We should legalize it then control it's sale much like NH state liquor stores.

Like that has worked so well for medical dispensaries.

I think anyone with a license to sell bottled liquors should be permitted an extension. Far less dangerous than what they are already selling, and they already have gear in place to age check, etc.

Inspired by Sav-Mor's April fool sign ....

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Medical dispenseries in other states work just fine.

What's your point?

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The MA system is a mess of ridiculous grand standing and a fair bit of patronage, too - I don't think a single one has yet opened.

Much simpler and easier to allow those with existing licenses to dispense controlled substances to opt to extend their license to a new one.

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.

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I propose an additional 2% tax on sales of BMW's to help fund local anger-management programs.

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Responsible citizens who drink to help pay for irresponsible ones shooting Heroin.

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lets just legalize heroin and tax that too

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More like increasing the tax on everyone who drinks to help pay for people with substance abuse issues. Considering that 50% of alcohol revenue is generated by addicts that doesn't seem entirely unreasonable. If you really drink responsibly I doubt you will notice a 2% tax on your meager alcohol purchases.

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In terms of public health, alcohol is far more damaging than other drugs, in terms of health consequences, property damage, accidents, family and social problems, fetal effects, and so forth. But street drugs are more stigmatized than alcohol or prescription drugs because of race and class issues. The average person has sympathy for the business executive who's getting drunk every night and ruining a marriage and children's lives, or is hooked on pain pills or benzos, but people who use street drugs "did it themselves." Right.

(BTW, if anyone is actually interested in examining their biases around drug use, try thinking about other disorders that have some brain chemistry in common. People with substance abuse disorders are choosing to partake of the substance. People with eating disorders are choosing to binge, purge, and restrict. People with OCD are choosing to touch things and arrange things and count things. People with autism are choosing to say things that are off-topic or to make repetitive movements. None of these things are completely involuntary; they're all voluntary motor movements that the person is controlling. And yet, none of these people can just suddenly change their brain and be just like you. All of these people have complicated things going on in their brain that make it so they can't just make a different choice just because someone said to. They all deserve competent healthcare.)

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It's already 7% to eat and drink in Boston!

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50% of alcohol is purchased by addicts? Well, 97% of purchasers are non-addicts. See what I did there? If you're going to cite a stat as the basis of your argument, you need to tell people where you got it.

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How would you propose we pay for substance abuse programs, if not through taxes?

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Through the charitable donations of the people who think drug use is acceptable?

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In other words, you don't want the problem solved because you get a moral high from judging humans for being humans.

Got it.

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I am fortunate enough to not have been dealt a substance abuse disorder, just as I also was fortunate enough not to have been dealt diabetes, schizophrenia, or cystic fibrosis. I enjoy a lovely adult beverage, and I recognize that they are absolutely not something I need*, and are something that signifies that I have some extra cash available for some enjoyments. I'm happy to pay extra taxes on my leisure and entertainment so that other people can get their basic needs met.

(*well, except maybe back in that period of having toddlers around the house...)

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it's been a while.. welcome back :)

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I'd be OK with an additional tax if they'd chill out on restricting grocery chains from selling at least wine and beer, but the packies wouldn't like that either, so it won't happen under Walsh. Why did a man so allergic to change even run for office in the first place?

It's completely stupid to have to make an additional stop for spaghetti sauce wine, bearnaise wine, stew beer, etc... And I shouldn't have to drive to Peabody for 2 Buck Chuck. I'd also love international groceries to be able to start offering harder-to-find stuff, like mirin that isn't 99% corn syrup.

Better yet, start allowing alcohol to be shipped to the state. I really miss some of the wines I used to get in CA and TX that just don't make it this far east.

The addicts aren't the ones being hampered by blue laws - what MA laws effectively ban are unusual specialty products. You can still get a handle of rotgut anywhere.

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...new...revenue...streams.

Can't possibly survive on revenue increases of only 50% over the rate of inflation.

Meaningless hash tag here and in city hall:

#livewithinyourmeans

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Find somewhere else to fund your fucking raise Linehan.

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Always a great way to get lower income residents to foot the bill for things.

They can't levy the tax on chinos and boat shoes, or something?

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It covers bars, restaurants and package stores. Its a percentage tax. Saying lower income residents are footing the bill makes no sense. Everyone who drinks alcohol is getting hit.

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If people are tipping 20% instead of 18% to offset the tax, who do you figure is getting hurt? I would imagine a good portion of bartenders and servers fall into the "low income" category.

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Most people are too lazy to back-calculate their total without tax included when determining tip. They also do 20% because the math is easier than 15%.

So, if the total bill is coming in 2% heavier due to a new tax, the server is likely to get about 0.4% more tip (10% of the total bill doubled then rounded down is how most people ballpark their tip these days).

Also bartenders frequently get screwed because drink prices have risen but most people still can't see through to tipping more than $1 per pour for beer, maybe $2-3/cocktail. Strippers have the same problem where the $1 bill is universal for tipping the stripper on stage for decades. But people don't throw more of them just because the purchasing power is worse now than before (I've been to clubs where they hand out $2 bills instead of $5 bills or $10 bills in change at the bar for this reason).

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Like nearly all restaurants, they'll probably lump the tax into the total, so that's an extra amount to which people will be applying the 20% (but shouldn't be).

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I somehow missed the line in the proposal about restaurants, but you're right - it would apply to both packie sales and in-restaurant consumption. I've updated the original post to reflect that.

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Technically, they'd be two different taxes and could even be set to two different amounts later based on how it is written.

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For what it's worth, people with higher incomes generally spend more money on alcohol. It's probably due to buying more expensive alcohol rather than buying more alcohol.

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I think the idea of the tax and the way it would be used, viewed in isolation, is laudable. But add it to all of our other quirky rules around alcohol and you have a very distorted regulatory framework.

Thanks to the happy hour ban and the precious-as-mana liquor licenses, booze is already very expensive here, and none of that extra cost for consumers goes into substance abuse programs. Why not ease back those rules while implementing this tax, so that the impact on consumers would be smaller while still achieving the goal of the tax?

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that any relaxation of the state's strict liquor laws would result in an increase in alcoholism, drunk driving, underage drinking, binge drinking, and assorted other social problems caused by alcohol.

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That would be my ideal policy. We should make it easier to have a beer with dinner; we should make it harder to have 10.

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Its a tax on all alcohol sales in stores, bars, restaurants etc.

The city of Boston already has a 3/4 % extra meals/drink tax.

When is this going to end?

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Direct deposit in the the city's account!

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hasn't this been voted down 2 or 3 times now? When's Linehan gonna listen to the people instead of himself? Now it won't even get voted on, he's just gonna shove it down our throats again?

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I can't seem to vote against the guy enough times.

Like 4 times in the last election alone.

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The Governor is in D.C. yammering about this substance-abuse problem, so Linehan probably sees this as an opportunity to bring his zombie tax back from the dead.

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In 2010, Massachusetts as a whole narrowly voted to exempt alcohol from the sales tax. But Boston voted in favor of taxing alcohol by a huge margin, 66% to 34%.

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This will be great for business... in surrounding towns.

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From now on, I'm only going to vote for people who have a college degree in geography.

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The tax should be statewide, as residents of other towns come to Boston for treatment programs. But then the voters repealed it when the alcohol industry spent millions of dollars to defeat it claiming they would lose too much money. Glad some tax is being proposed somewhere to fund treatment programs. Its not just a few people... its thousands of people each year who have become addicted to alcohol in every neighborhood in the city of Boston. And alcohol is the biggest gateway to other drugs. Just look at whats happening at the colleges.. many of those kids are landing in treatment programs.

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And I'm supposed to pay 2% more for alcohol because of this? Hey, Linehan, go back to Ireland.*

*He actually went over there last year. It's not a slur if he visits voluntarily. Hopefully he won't come back next time.

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"And I'm supposed to pay 2% more for alcohol because of this?"

Said the man angered by morons putting drugs into their bodies.

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As long as I'm not paying for it. I don't care about their treatment. This is 2015, you know what the crack does. You know what the heroin does. You know what the oxycontin does.

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This was a great idea when it was statewide. But to make Boston alcohol prices 2% higher without raising them elsewhere is simply unfair to the Boston vendors. It's more likely to drive 2% of the business out of the city.

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World class, baby!

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Make is 10% and put it towards the MBTA

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Legalize the abused substances and tax them.

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Raising taxes on alcohol is a great way to discourage excess alcohol consumption. The revenue for treatment programs is just a smaller, added bonus. WaPo did a great rundown of the arguments for taxing booze more, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/20...
(it's section #2 at the link)

The key quote from a literature review is:

doubling the alcohol tax would reduce alcohol-related mortality by an average of 35%, traffic crash deaths by 11%, sexually transmitted disease by 6%, violence by 2%, and crime by 1.4%

One important question is whether raising taxes would actually discourage alcohol consumption, or if people would just drink the same amount and pay more. The research suggests it almost definitely would. The chart below shows price elasticity (i.e. how much the price affects consumption) for different forms of alcohol. The more the elasticity, the more price decreases consumption. Each symbol on the chart represents a different study.
IMAGE(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=http://img.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/files/2013/04/cdc_elasticity.jpg&w=1484)

By the way, one of the main public health arguments in favor of legalizing marijuana is that some people would substitute weed for alcohol, and weed is much less harmful than alcohol.

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People with addiction problems are looking for a high . If it costs $15 to get drunk and $10 to get high on some drug, which do you think they'd turn to?

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Just to clarify, the quote "doubling the alcohol tax" refers to doubling the relatively small taxes on alcohol, not the total cost of alcohol. This generally refers to excise tax, which is paid by breweries/distilleries and retailers rather than directly by customers (even though they of course pass their costs on to consumers).

I don't have a good answer for just how high alcohol taxes should go, but I think we can safely tax it at 2% without causing the negative externalities you describe. . According to http://www.masslive.com/drinks/2014/03/at_11_cents_massachusetts_rank.html , Massachusetts actually charges one of the lowest alcohol excise taxes of any state.

Also, fun fact: according to the linked article Bill Linehan introduced the exact same bill precisely one year ago, except that last year he tried to apply the full 6.25% sales tax.

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You say doubling the small TAX on alcohol won't cause people to abstain from buying alcohol (in favor of drugs)....yet it will somehow "reduce alcohol-related mortality by an average of 35%"? Please explain.

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I was able to pull the actual article, however, and most of the cited studies deal with larger areas than a city that is really just a part of a larger city.

In other words, this might not work in areas of Boston where people can easily get to "not Boston". The most appropriate comparison area would be for a state-wide raise in the tax, not just a component city in a peculiarly balkanized urban area.

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Yeah, that's the main flaw. I fully agree that a state-wide tax would be a much better policy.

But I think that a city-wide tax is better than nothing, and that Boston is a large enough jurisdiction to pull this off. It's worth noting that the current proposal is for a paltry 2% sales tax. For comparison, the statewide sales tax on alcohol that voters narrowly repealed in 2010 (even as Boston voted to keep it by a two-to-one margin) was 6.25%.

2% sales tax is tiny. The sixpacks I buy cost about $10. That comes out to about 3 cents per beer. I think that's a small enough tax that most people won't leave Boston just to buy booze.

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Why should everyone have their taxes increased just to prevent the handful of idiots that can't handle their liquor? This is why we can't have nice things.

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We're already paying for people who can't handle their liquor - we're paying increased health premiums for their cirrhosis, and we're paying for more policing every time alcohol convinces them to get in a fight. I suspect the cost of paying slightly more for booze is relatively small in comparison.

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Social security payments because a parent was killed by a drunk in a car accident (or run down in the street or sidewalk).

Costs of drunks killing people with their cars.

Costs of homeless shelters, etc. for people who hit bottom hard.

Unemployment benefits for people who are "let go" easy.

Health insurance costs for those with decent insurance covering substance abuse.

I could go on.

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On most of your anecdotes, you're describing the mentally ill. That alcohol is involved is largely irrelevant. People don't do most of those things because of alcohol, they use alcohol to try to self-medicate an underlying issue. People don't lose their jobs or homes because of alcohol, they lose their jobs because of a mental disorder that causes them to spiral out of control. Booze is just fuel for the fire. Healthy, happy people don't get turned into slobs by booze.

And to jeff's point about policing, why wouldn't you just increase the fines for people arrest for F(ighting)UI?

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How, exactly, do you propose that only mentally ill people pay for mental illness?

I mean, other than shutting down a substance abuse and homeless shelter facility and not replacing it???

Isn't that what you are getting at - that you shouldn't have to pay for it? Even though a few pennies on a bottle of beer might be a better way than you are paying for it now? (in the cost of policing and the cost of life insurance, health insurance, car insurance, social security, etc.)

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Because by the time people are drunk enough to become violent, they're not rationally judging the consequences of their actions. I believe it's more productive to focus on getting them less drunk in the first place.

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"Uninterrupted, the drug abuse-crime cycle jeopardizes public health and public safety and taxes an already over-burdened criminal justice system. It follows then that reducing drug use can reduce crime and improve not just the health, safety, and well-being of the individual, but of communities and society as a whole."

http://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-...

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This problem impacts all citizens in the city. Why would we pay a tax on 1 thing that not all citizens purchase be the way to handle this? Not to mention, a 2% increase is huge.

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How about using all the money the DEA gets from drug lords being busted? Or, even putting all the money nabbed from drug dealers selling opiates and cocaine as well? Or luxury vehicles they are driving? They are the ones feeding the opiate and heroin problem, not owners of liquor stores!!!!!!!

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Well, shit! I didn't know government could solve these problems so easily with a simple tax increase. Why stop at 2%? Maybe we can solve poverty and end hunger if we tax more!

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Just look at Sweden and other nordic countries to see how a very high tax rate has solved many problems. Isn't it something obnoxious like a 45% tax rate? but then again schools are free, transit is nearly free, better roads, better healthcare..

Not in favor of more taxes but they must be doing something right if they keep doing it and the citizens are happy with the results.

Just saying...

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They also have homogeneous populations and OIL MONEY

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Not only do the Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark have some of the highest taxes in the world, but they also have some of the happiest people in the world. And nobody complains when the government spends money on a project for the public good.

Me? Personally? I'll take the cash, thanks. I'm pretty happy. But if you can tell me that you'll fix the T or the roads with some more gas tax? I'd pay for that. There's a happy middle. Right now we're on the unhappy cusp.

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The have the highest suicide rates in the world and highest rates of anti-depressant use too. Very high rate of violence against women as well compared to the rest of Western Europe and the US.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/27/scandinavian-miracle-brutal...

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I believe that claim of happiness has been debunked:

.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/27/scandinavian-miracle-brutal-truth-denmark-norway-sweden

Also NPR did a thing on it as well.

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I would not call that a debunking, rather a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal, by a Brit, for comedic value.

http://www.prosperity.com/#!/ranking

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I think they should add a 2% tax on cell phone plans to fund victims of driving while texting/calling, and a 2% tax on parking spaces to fund victims of space saver rage.

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You should run for state or local office. You would get my vote!

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How about proposing a 4-year term instead of the current 2-year term for Boston City Council seats which Andrew Cousino suggested in 2013. This would save thecity of Boston over a half a million dollars which could be used for substance abuse, public safety, schools, or snow removal.

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Andrew Cousino for At-Large Boston City Council 2015!!!!!!!!

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A 15% budget cut for Council staffers?

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There are people addicted to them, so tax scratchies.

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In fact, they pretty much are a tax.

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Here we go again. I have to pay more because others make bad life choices? I don't think so. No more taxes. What is it with these Democrats and their 'tax hikes on working people will solve all of societies ills' fetish. Hands off our wallets. You are already taking enough out of our paychecks.

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Then would you be willing to pay more to live in that society?

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