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Munson's vote draws mixed reactions

April 04, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Sen. Donald F. Munson's Tuesday vote to raise the cigarette tax drew defenders and critics back in Washington County.

Many said Munson, R-Washington, was right to bow to pressure from a powerful committee chairwoman who he said threatened Hagerstown's two most important projects if he didn't change his position and support the tax.

But at least one smoker was disappointed at Munson's capitulation.

"I'm a little surprised. I suppose that's just totally typical of a politician, especially here in the state of Maryland. They do what people want them to do in Annapolis," said Dawk Hollinger, who owns Smoker Friendly in Hagerstown.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce opposes any cigarette tax increases, said President Fred Teeter.

Still, Teeter said he personally believes that Munson had no choice but to submit.

"I think he did the right thing and virtually everyone else in Hagerstown and Washington County would say the same thing," he said.

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Munson said he agonized over the decision when faced with voting for the tax or losing $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.

The president of the Washington County Commissioners and the mayor of Hagerstown both supported Munson's decision.

"I think it's an admirable position to take because I know he didn't particularly care to vote for that tax. He knows how much we need the university here," Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said.

County Commission President Gregory I. Snook said if the university project is lost this legislative session it might never happen under a new governor and legislature.

"We've been waiting for such a long time. That's why we really put the push on this year," Snook said.

The project has passed the Senate and received preliminary approval in the House as part of the state's $720 million capital budget. It now must clear a conference committee.

On Tuesday, Munson voted to raise the cigarette tax as part of a large education spending plan.

Under the plan, Washington County schools would get an extra $2.2 million from the state in the 2003 budget year. Of that, $1.2 million would come from the cigarette tax increase and the rest would come from an increase in a grant the county receives for being among the poorer counties.

State aid to education would increase in each of the following years, reaching $23.1 million in 2008.

On Wednesday, Munson voted for the entire tax and education package, which passed the Senate 30-17 and now moves to the House. A House committee could vote on it as soon as today.

"I'm still mad that I was hijacked," Munson said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, Tuesday criticized Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, for putting the squeeze on Munson.

"That's outrageous that the arrogant establishment down here would threaten any senator with their most important project. It's a terrible position to be in," Mooney said Tuesday.

If there's any merit to the tax, it would be the fact that it could prompt some smokers to quit, Munson said. Munson's mother died of lung cancer six years ago at the age of 77.

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