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Wine bills getting dry reception

March 03, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - A Senate committee this week dampened efforts by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, to promote Maryland wine making in agricultural areas, saying money being sought for promotions is needed elsewhere.

Munson has sponsored two bills, one of which would renew an advisory commission on wine and grape growing. The other would establish a promotion council for Maryland wineries, funded with money collected from taxes on wine.

Del. Virginia Clagett, D-Anne Arundel, has filed companion bills in the House.

Munson told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that the $5 million now generated in taxes on wine sales in Maryland could triple or quadruple if the state were to invest in the industry. Maryland, he said, is a great place to grow grapes and bottle wine.

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"There is a huge, huge potential for this endeavor," he said.

Beyond sales, Munson cited the potential for spinoff undertakings such as vineyard tours, which he's been touting as an added asset.

Committee Chairman Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, didn't disagree with any of that, but later warned that tax money from wine sales currently goes into the state's general fund, and couldn't be spared.

"The money collected through the wine tax is being used to pay for other things," she said.

Munson's proposals provide a structured increase in funding for the promotions council, with 5 percent of the wine sales tax going to the council in fiscal year 2006, 7 percent in fiscal 2007 and 10 percent in fiscal 2008.

Lobbyist Patrick Roddy, representing the Maryland Association of Wineries, estimated 10 million gallons of wine are consumed yearly in Maryland. If Munson's bills were approved, approximately $500,000 of the resulting tax revenue would go to the promotion council by fiscal year 2008.

Hollinger suggested increasing the sales tax on wine to pay for the council, but Roddy feared that raising the tax would hurt sales.

"It would be wise if you could find another funding source," Hollinger said. "This committee can't pass this bill without it."

Munson said Wednesday morning that the search has already begun.

"We're gonna keep doing this as long as I'm here, until we get it right - until her committee gets it right," he said.

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