A Westport lawmaker who voted to hike the state sales and alcohol taxes was spotted brazenly piling booze in his car – adorned with his State House license plate – in the parking lot of a tax-free New Hampshire liquor store, the Herald has learned.
Michael J. Rodrigues’ blue Ford Crown Victoria, emblazoned with his “House 29” Massachusetts license plate, was parked outside a Granite State liquor store on Interstate-95 South over the weekend, according to a witness who provided pictures to the Herald.
The witness, who requested anonymity, claimed he approached Rodrigues, noted his State House plate, and asked if he was on personal or official business. Rodrigues, who was loading booze into his car, snapped “mind your own business,” the witness said.
The witness’ account was also posted yesterday on Citizens for Limited Taxation’s Web site.
A member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Rodrigues did not return several phone calls yesterday. But in an online interview with The Standard-Times in New Bedford, he acknowledged buying the booze during a bathroom stop while he and his wife were on a weekend getaway in New Hampshire.
He also blamed the brouhaha on “Republican demagoguery.”
“Unfortunately, I think that’s why the Republican Party is in such bad shape in Massachusetts,” Rodrigues is quoted as saying. “The electorate here is smart enough to figure out what they’re up to.”
The Westport Democrat, whose family owns a rug business, was among the lawmakers who voted in an unpopular 25 percent sales tax hike for Bay Staters. The increase pushed the sales tax to 6.25 percent and slapped that same levy on booze – the first time alcohol has been subject to retail sales tax.
The hike has been blasted by business owners, especially those on the New Hampshire border, who say the increase has driven business north.
Mike Cimini, owner of Yankee Spirits liquor stores in Sturbridge, Attleboro and Swansea, said he’s lost about 10 percent of his business since the booze tax went into effect Aug. 1.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable that a Massachusetts state representative would be that hypocritical, let alone be that bold to actually drive his car with political plates to a New Hampshire liquor store,” said Cimini, noting Rodrigues represents communities close to his stores. “He’s up in New Hampshire to avoid the very taxes he approved.”
State law prohibits transporting more than 20 gallons of malt beverages or three gallons of any other alcoholic beverage. Police have the authority to detain and charge anyone illegally importing booze into the state. It’s unknown how much Rodrigues purchased at the New Hampshire store.
Authorities have also cracked down at the border, targeting Bay Staters seeking to avoid paying state taxes by crossing into New Hampshire to shop.
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