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Delegation against cigarette tax hike

January 24, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A health-care coalition said Tuesday that it has sponsors for a bill to double Maryland's per-pack cigarette tax from $1 to $2, creating a fund to help the underinsured.

Several lawmakers representing Washington County oppose the increase, which would be the state's third tobacco tax hike since 1999.

Health Care for All! - hundreds of medical, religious, labor, business and civic groups - is pushing the plan, saying it would help adults quit smoking and keep young people from starting.

The plan would raise an additional $211 million the first year and at least $170 million more in subsequent years, according to the coalition, which says it has more than 75 supporters in the General Assembly. House and Senate sponsors expect to file bills by next week.

None of the supporters is from Washington County's delegation. All five delegation members contacted Tuesday oppose the measure.

"It's too close to Pennsylvania and it's too close to West Virginia to allow our retailers to compete ...," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington. "I'm not going to sit down here in Annapolis and vote to cost my constituents jobs."

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Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, called it "a sin tax" and "just an excuse to raise taxes."

At a press conference Tuesday, Vincent DeMarco, the president of Health Care for All!, said the breadth of his coalition indicates widespread favor for the tax.

"It's the state of Maryland vs. Big Tobacco," he said.

Of the estimated $170 million per year in additional revenue after the first year, $90 million would strengthen Medicaid. Another $30 million would fund drug treatment and $14 million would go to a tobacco-use prevention and cessation program.

The state raised the per-pack cigarette tax 30 cents in 1999 and 34 cents in 2002, bringing it to the current $1, DeMarco said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, blasted the plan on several counts, including the prospect of raising taxes.

Funding health care with a shrinking pot of money - fewer smokers later will mean less tax revenue - is "fundamentally unsound," he said.

"If it's a declining revenue source, how reliable can that be?" asked Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

In addition, Shank said that smoking, which he doesn't do, is a personal choice.

"There are people who enjoy a cigarette after a hard day's work," he said.

Delegation members said the business effect alone is a prime reason to say no.

"When they raised taxes before, it drove business to the Internet and to Pennsylvania and to West Virginia," said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany.

"Over the years, people have said every time this is done, they just go somewhere else to buy it," Donoghue said.

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