By Nicholas Sohr

Tue, Jan 4, 2011

A new poll commissioned by advocates of an increase to the state’s tax on alcohol found that 66 percent of Marylanders support the hike as a way to fund health programs.

Fewer people — 55 percent — said they support the increase if the funds were used to reduce the state’s $1.6 billion budget deficit. That finding signals an awareness among those pushing the initiative that the cash-strapped General Assembly could see the alcohol tax as a way to ease the state’s budget woes.

“Maryland voters overwhelmingly support the dime-a-drink alcohol tax increase because they know that it will save lives and help Maryland’s economy,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition.

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. The proposal pushed by the coalition would raise all three taxes by the equivalent of a dime a drink. Backers estimate it would raise $215.6 million in new revenue.

The coalition is pushing for those funds to be dedicated to programs for the disabled, addiction treatment, mental health and health care coverage for childless adults. But even without that funding, its supporters believe the alcohol tax bump will have public health benefits by reducing drinking.

The alcohol tax increase has gotten more traction than most other tax hikes recently, and promises to do so again in 2011. It will run into intense opposition, however, from alcohol distributors, wholesalers and retailers, a traditional Annapolis powerhouse.

Top elected officials have also said 2011 isn’t the year to raise taxes, though they haven’t ruled them out completely. Gov. Martin O’Malley has repeatedly said his budget will not include tax increases, but hasn’t said he would fight against any such measures approved by the legislature.

Last modified: January 4, 2011