Senate leader: Md. will raise alcohol tax
The powerful head of the Maryland state Senate said Friday that although he still personally opposes an alcohol tax increase, he expects that the state's General Assembly will vote for a "modest raise" on alcohol and perhaps increases to other so-called "sin taxes" this year to help address the state's $1.6 billion budget shortfall.
"In my opinion, we're going to raise the alcohol tax. But it's going to be a modest raise," Senate President Thomas v. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said, effectively reversing his earlier prediction that an alcohol tax would not pass muster this year.
Thanks in part to the alcohol lobby's influence in Annapolis, Maryland's levy on hard alcohol is tied with the District's as the second-lowest in the nation. It has remained unchanged since 1955, even as Maryland in recent years has raised its sales tax, income tax, corporate tax and cigarette tax, created taxes on electronic bingo and tip jars, and added surcharges such as one on septic systems known as the "flush tax."
Supporters of raising the alcohol tax say that Maryland needs the revenue to better fund costs for alcohol and drug treatment programs and better care for those with developmental disabilities and mental health needs. But it's unlikely the money could be earmarked for those causes in the state's budget.
Under legislation introduced in the House of Delegates on Friday, the alcohol tax would be raised by a "dime a drink," which would bring in more than $200 million annually to the state by increasing the tax from $1.50 to $10.03 per gallon for distilled spirits, from 40 cents to $2.96 per gallon for wine and from 9 cents to $1.16 per gallon of beer.
A six-pack of beer would cost an extra 60 cents; a bottle of wine would increase by roughly 50 cents, and a 1.75-liter bottle of liquor would go up by $3.90.
Miller, whose family owns a liquor store in Southern Maryland, said that as proposed the tax would be too burdensome on consumers, and he would work to make the increase less costly to residents.
"We're going to raise it, but it's going to be something that's not going to send people fleeing across the borders and it's not going to cut consumption one iota," Miller said.
Miller's comments came after advocates for an alcohol tax increase received a boost this week from Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker.
The leaders of the two largest Maryland suburban counties appeared with religious leaders and state senators from Prince George's and Baltimore city near the Maryland State House on Wednesday. They spoke in favor of the legislation, saying it could help counties with underfunded health initiatives and caring for the developmentally disabled.
At that event, Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, said 20 senators had said they will support the bill -- four short of the number needed to pass it. He said 66 delegates support the measure of the 71 needed in the House of Delegates.
Over the last two weeks, some 600 supporters from the Mental Health Coalition and the Developmental Disabilities Coalition also attended rallies in Annapolis in favor of the alcohol tax increase.
Miller likened supporters' zeal for an alcohol tax increase to that of successful efforts four years ago to double Maryland's $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes. But he said supporters were foolish to ask for such a big increase because it would drive commerce to other states.
"We need a fair and equitable tax proposal which recognizes the financial constraints of our constituency," Miller said, adding that several members of the legislature are still also interested in a gas tax increase.
"Driving's not a sin tax but a user fee," Miller added. "The people who use the roads, drive the roads, should have to pay for them. It hasn't been adjusted since 1992, and the cost of paving has gone up and we've neglected a lot of our roads, and we also need a purple line and light rail.
"I would like light rail in Southern Maryland, quite frankly," he said. "I mean, trying to get through Waldorf is like trying to get through the streets of New York City."
Aaron C. Davis
| February 18, 2011; 1:43 PM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis
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