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.