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Early support for alcohol tax hike

THE DAILY RECORD
August 30, 2010
By Nick Sohr

Health care advocates say they have 146 General Assembly candidates signed on to a proposal that would raise the state’s alcohol taxes by a dime a drink.

Their effort was unsuccessful during the 2010 legislative session, when lawmakers swore off tax and fee increases as economically and politically unpalatable.

But, the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative thinks 2011 will be their year. The next election will be four years off and the legislature will face another tough slog to find revenue to raise and costs to cut.

“I think the alcohol tax is going to happen,” said Vinny DeMarco, who heads the initiative and lobbied successfully for the cigarette tax increase in 2007. “The support in the legislature is reflective now of the support in the public.”

DeMarco’s plan would increase taxes on beer, wine and hard liquor the equivalent of a dime per drink to raise more than $200 million. The money would go toward developmental disability services, addiction treatment and prevention, mental health care and health insurance for childless adults–parents are covered under existing law.

Of course, DeMarco’s 146 don’t guarantee victory. Only 63 (18 senators and 45 delegates) are incumbents. Although they represent a larger piece of the General Assembly than the alcohol tax increase enjoyed earlier this year (there were 49 co-sponsors), they will need help in reaching the majorities in both houses.

And even if support does build for the tax increase, there’s no guarantee the money will go where its supporters intend. The $200 million or so will be enticing for lawmakers trying to stretch revenues to cover the state‚Äôs costs.

“We want to get over the first hurdle and just get the tax in,” DeMarco said. “Then we’ll work on the second hurdle of deciding how it will be spent.”

If nothing else, supporters say, the state is due for an increase.

Beer and wine excise taxes were set in 1972– beer at 9 cents per gallon and wine at 40 cents. The liquor tax was last changed in 1955, when it was raised to $1.50 per gallon.

According to figures released by the comptroller’s office, the state collected $29.3 million in alcohol taxes in fiscal 2009.

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