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Munson votes for cigarette tax

April 03, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Sen. Donald F. Munson voted to raise the cigarette tax Tuesday after a budget committee chairwoman threatened to cut money for Hagerstown's two most important projects.

At risk was $12.4 million for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center and a $2 million subsidy for air service to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said Munson, R-Washington.

Budget and Taxation Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, told Munson over the weekend she would withdraw her support for both projects unless Munson agreed to vote for a 34-cent-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax.

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"I believe that airplane subsidy would have crashed and burned last Saturday and Hoffman would have killed the university," Munson said after the Senate voted 32-15 to raise the tax.

Hoffman confirmed that she pressured Munson.

The Senate tentatively passed the tax increase Tuesday night, tying it to an education spending plan based on recommendations by the Thornton Commission. The plan calls for annual increases in state funding for public education that will top $1.3 billion in 2008.

The House is not likely to accept the Senate's plan and is working on its own, said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany.

House leaders have said they don't think it's wise to commit to such a large increase in education spending without footing the bill. The tobacco tax only raises enough money to pay for the first 18 months of the program.

Under the plan, Washington County schools would get an extra $2.2 million from the state in the 2003 budget year. Of that, $1.3 million would come from the cigarette tax increase and the rest from an increase in a grant the county receives for being among the poorer jurisdictions.

The county would get an extra $3.4 million in 2004, $6.9 million in 2005, $12.4 million in 2006, $17.7 million in 2007 and $23.1 million in 2008.

Munson voted against the plan in the Budget and Taxation Committee and has voted against previous increases in the cigarette tax.

If approved, the tax on a pack of cigarettes would go to $1.

Munson was one of two Republicans to vote for the tax increase. The other was Sen. Jean Roesser, R-Montgomery.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he voted against the tax increase because of fears it will drive business across the Maryland line.

Munson said he agonized over the decision, weighing the tax increase's damage to businesses against the value of the two projects for Washington County.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said the threat against Hagerstown's projects was more perceived than real.

Money has been secured for the education center and the air subsidy, although both projects face a series of final votes in the House and Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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