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Senate panel OKs scaled-back cigarette tax hike

April 08, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A Senate panel voted Wednesday to double Maryland's 36-cent-per-pack cigarette tax, which is less than the $1 increase Gov. Parris Glendening proposed.

The vote threw a new wrinkle into already contentious budget negotiations in which funding for a University of Maryland campus in Hagerstown is at stake.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, continued to oppose the tax, voting against the 36-cent increase passed by the Budget and Taxation Committee on Wednesday.

"This is going to be detrimental to certain areas of the state. That needs to be taken into consideration," Munson said.

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The proposal goes before the full Senate today, where other opponents of the tax are threatening a filibuster.

Two weeks ago, the House of Delegates passed Glendening's proposed cigarette tax increase of 50 cents this year and 50 cents next year, despite opposition from five of six Washington County delegates.

Some lawmakers have suggested that Glendening rewarded the delegates who voted "yes" with projects funded in his proposed $153 million supplemental budget announced Monday, which relies on cigarette tax revenues.

"They voted 50 cents. They're expecting full payment for their performance," said Sen. Robert R. Neall, R-Anne Arundel.

In jeopardy is $150,000 in planning money for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

While it's a small amount of money, it would mean a big commitment from the state to building the $12 million campus off Interstate 70 at Downsville Pike.

On Tuesday, state budget analysts recommended the Hagerstown project be cut and instead be weighed against other university building projects in future years.

Local lawmakers continued lobbying for the campus project.

"We're working hard to convince the conferees that it's important," said Delegation Chairman Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Glendening praised the scaled-down tax increase.

"What it means, almost certainly, the tobacco tax will go up at least 100 percent. This is a significant step forward," Glendening said.

Maryland's 36-cent tobacco tax is already higher than Pennsylvania's, at 31 cents, and West Virginia's, at 17 cents.

The additional 36 cents did not come easy in the Budget and Taxation Committee.

Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, D-Charles, accused Glendening of being hypocritical because he reduced funding for smoking cessation programs from $740,000 to $350,000 in the last seven years.

After the committee vote, Glendening promised to implement a "substantial, aggressive program to reduce tobacco consumption in Maryland."

The program would include media campaigns to deter people from smoking, a crackdown on teen smoking laws, school-based education programs and smoking cessation programs.

Advocates said a 36-cent tax increase will save an estimated 10,000 lives.

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