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Posted at 2:05 PM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Alcohol-tax advocates roll out supporters, including wine store owner

By Ann Marimow

Advocates for increasing the state's alcohol tax are turning up the pressure on lawmakers in Annapolis this week. On Monday, the coalition behind the "dime a drink" proposal got the backing of the owner of a popular Baltimore wine store. And hundreds of mental health advocates from Montgomery and Prince George's counties will descend on the capital to rally for the tax increase on Tuesday.

David Wells, who owns the Wine Source in Baltimore, said at a news conference Monday that he is "confident that this increase will not hurt my business." He added: "It is time for our industry to do its fair share to reduce the deaths and societal problems caused by the misuse of our product."

Maryland's alcohol tax -- among the lowest in the nation -- has not been raised on beer or wine since 1972; the excise tax on spirits was last raised in 1955. More than 70 lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors to legislation that would raise an estimated $215 million to help pay for health programs.

Thumbnail image for DeMarco.jpg To Vinny DeMarco, left, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, Wells's endorsement undermines the argument from the alcohol industry that the proposal "would be bad for the economy or jobs."

"The discussion has changed from whether there is going to be an alcohol tax increase to how much of an increase," DeMarco said.

On the key House Ways and Means Committee, for instance, nine members have signed on to the bill. At least three others, according to DeMarco, have said they support raising the alcohol tax, though not necessarily the plan to dedicate the revenue to health programs.

The measure faces opposition from the powerful alcohol industry and in the Senate. Even before the session began last month, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who has pushed for an increase in the gas tax, called the magnitude of the dime-a-drink plan "insanity personified."

The budget blueprint Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) released last month does not raise taxes. But the governor has said that everyone should keep an "open mind" about ways to close the state's budget shortfall.

By Ann Marimow  | February 7, 2011; 2:05 PM ET
Categories:  Ann Marimow, General Assembly  
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