Annapolis notebook

March 30, 1997

ANNAPOLIS - The battle to increase Maryland's cigarette tax reached an unsuccessful but humorous climax last week in one of the strangest debates in the General Assembly this year.

Lawmakers from throughout the state lined up with a series of failed amendments to the 15-cent-a-pack tax hike that would have directed its proceeds to everything from county governments to Prince George's County fire stations.

Del. J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick/Washington, asked that $20 million raised by the tobacco tax go to dairy farmers. It would have come out to about $20,000 per Maryland farmer - a nice consolation, she said, after the failure of legislation to set minimum milk prices.

"I thought that was only fair," said Stup.

But that failed, as did an attempt by Del. George W. Owings III, D-Calvert, to increase the cigarette tax by an astronomical $4.80 a pack. Owings, considered a friend of tobacco farmers in Southern Maryland, even put together a fanciful chart that showed the increase would raise $1.4 billion a year, with money going to farmers, fire stations and just about any other agency in need in the state.


Better yet, the large tax increase would stop all children from ever starting to smoke, said Owings, himself a smoker.

"If this is a good bill, then let's make it an excellent bill," Owings said tongue in cheek.

As strange as that idea was, the proposal nearly passed, as many lawmakers saw an outrageously large tax as a way of killing the bill. That's exactly what happened a few minutes later when a $1 cigarette tax increase passed - a measure that would have faced stiff opposition in the state Senate.

The tax hike has been returned to - or buried in - a House committee.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, didn't vote for the killer amendment. But he said he opposes the cigarette tax, if only for purely parochial reasons.

"With the geography of our county, the only thing (the tax) will do is send cigarette sales to West Virginia or Pennsylvania," he said.

"I don't see it changing any smoking habits," McKee added.

Delegates define what an alley is

Not all the discussions in the State House involve a deep, probing examination of complex issues. For example, the debate over a bill that would decrease speed limits alleys actually included the following exchange on the House floor:

"Tell me what an alley is," Owings said.

"Well, it's a little street behind a house," replied Del. Gerald J. Curran, D-Baltimore.

Golden topaz killed; milk bill turns sour

The effort to make the golden topaz the official state gem met its doom last week when the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee killed the bill.

In a related matter, the campaign to make milk the officials state drink has stalled in the Senate Economic and Environmental Matters Committee.

- By Guy Fletcher

The Herald-Mail Articles