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Senators begin filibuster over cigarette tax increase

April 09, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Maryland senators opposed to doubling the state's 36-cent-a-pack cigarette tax began a filibuster Thursday.

The Senate voted 26 to 21 to adopt the recommendation of the Budget and Taxation Committee that the tax on a pack of cigarettes be increased from 36 cents to 72 cents.

That vote, the first of two required for passage of the bill, came in the middle of a debate on smoking and taxes that consumed much of the day in the Senate.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, tried twice to limit debate, but fell far short of the 32 required votes.

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The filibuster, aimed at killing the tax increase, threatens other key legislation awaiting approval before the Maryland General Assembly session officially ends Monday.

For Washington County, that means two bills to give the county the right to protect farmers and license home builders.

The filibuster also means further delay in learning whether a proposed University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center will get $150,000 in startup money from the state.

The planning money for the $12 million campus, included in Gov. Parris Glendening's supplemental budget, was already at risk because state budget analysts recommended it be cut.

The decision rests largely with a budget conference committee that has no local members.

Another variable in the equation is the that Glendening proposed funding his entire $153 million supplemental budget with money from the cigarette tax increase.

That tactic infuriated even some of those who are supporting the tax increase.

But Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, said it is more important that the tax increase will save lives by discouraging young people from starting the habit and encouraging longtime smokers to quit.

Sen. Robert R. Neall, R-Anne Arundel, a ringleader of the filibuster, urged the Senate to reject the tax on the basis of Glendening's tactic.

"We don't have the time to untangle the mess that the governor created for us," said Neall, who is on the budget conference committee.

If the session is extended past midnight Monday, the legislature will not be able to consider anything except the operating budget.

The filibuster ended about 9 p.m. after about four hours. It will continue today at 9 a.m.

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