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Health care group wins endorsements for liquor tax

The Baltimore Sun
September 02, 2010 – 01:27 PM
By Meredith Cohn, AUGUST 30, 2010

An effort this summer to win endorsements from General Assembly candidates for an alcohol tax has yielded 140 signatures, potentially giving the tax it’s best chance of passing in years, according to the health advocacy group the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.

The group wants passage of a “dime a drink” tax to pay for increased health care for the disabled and poor. An estimated $249 million would be generated from such a tax.

Letters asking for endorsement were sent to all candidates for the legislature, though not the gubernatorial candidates. Among those signing the pledge were 18 incumbent Senators and 45 incumbent members of the House of Delegates, including five standing committee chairs and several members of the panels that would consider the legislation. Others who did not sign on have said they support raising the alcohol tax if it’s tied to increasing health care coverage.

Lawmakers have avoiding raising taxes on spirits since 1955 and have not been raised on wine and beer since 1972. The tax, assessed at the wholesale level, would mean an extra 60 cents for a 6-pack of beer, 59 cents for a bottle of wine and $2.25 for an average bottle of spirits.

Though few want to talk about raising tax during a campaign season, and others have pledged no new taxes during an economic downturn, the health care group hopes to make the tax a campaign issue.

“We are thrilled that so many candidates, including Democrats and Republicans from all across the State, have already endorsed this life-saving proposal,” Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said in a statement. “They know that the public strongly supports increasing the alcohol tax to save lives and fund critical state programs. With this growing support, we are very hopeful that a dime a drink alcohol tax increase for health care and community service needs will pass in the 2011 Session.”

DeMarco said the money specifically should be used ahead of the national roll out of health care reform to provide coverage for those with mental health and developmental disabilities, those with drug and alcohol addiction and poor adults without children.

The health care group also says that the tax should help reduce alcohol abuse. A Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health study found that the 10-cent tax would mean 15,000 fewer cases of alcohol dependence.