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Why I Voted Against the Alcohol Tax

Del. John A. Olszewski Jr. recounts the history of the alcohol tax in the recent General Assembly and why he opposed the legislation.

The Fourth of July will be here before we know it, along with parades, fairs and backyard barbeques. This year, it will also include more expensive adult beverages, as an increase on the state’s alcohol tax is set to take effect just before the holiday weekend, on July 1.  

I strongly opposed the tax hike during our most recent legislative session.   

At the start of the past session, advocates seeking an alcohol tax increase sought to increase alcohol costs by a “dime a drink, with a link.” The 10 cents per drink increase would have been accomplished by raising the state’s excise tax (at the wholesale level, an equal increase on all of drink regardless of price) on alcohol.  

The “link” would have been to use nearly half the revenues to expand Medicaid for childless adults and to fund services for the mentally disabled as well as programs for drug and alcohol addiction.  

An alcohol tax increase emerged, but in a different form: increasing the sales tax on alcohol from 6 to 9 percent. Ironically, the proposal to alter the alcohol tax was not presented until after a balanced budget had already been passed, making any new revenue was unnecessary.

As passed in the Senate, the increase was phased in over three years at a rate of 1 percent per year. Making matters worse, as the budget was already balanced, the  proposal directed most of the approximately $30 million in new revenues to operating expenses in Baltimore City and Prince George's County Schools, to the tune of $8 and $12 million, respectively—$5 million was dedicated to the developmental disability community.   

When the House considered the proposal, they not only approved the Senate idea but opted to approve the full 3 percent increase at one time, planning to use the remainder of the “new” money (the other 2 percent) toward school construction in select jurisdictions.  

I was appalled. As Chairman of the Baltimore County House Delegation, I asked the County Executive’s staff to provide hearings for our delegation. In this process, we learned that Baltimore County is a major seller of alcohol in the state, ranking number one in overall beer sales and number two in wine and distilled spirits sales—yet stood to gain nothing.  

As a result of our efforts, Baltimore County was given $7 million in school construction money, though it was still no reason to support the increase, and still short of what was awarded to Baltimore City (an additional $9 million), Prince George’s County (an additional $9 million), and Montgomery County ($9 million).  

Only $15 million was dedicated to the mentally disabled community, and that funding is only guaranteed for a few years.    

Sadly, what was once a plan to address alcohol abuse and help fund needs of the mentally disabled community turned into a money grab. As a result, those voting “yes” not only provided new obstacles to our small businesses and hospitality and tourism industries, but also veered far off course from the original “with a link” proposal.  

Moreover, a sales tax (rather than an excise tax) increase means that consumers can expect to pay more than a dime more for many drinks (a $5 drink, for example, will now cost 15 cents more). For all of these reasons, it was easy for me to vote against this tax increase.  

Mitch Toland Jr. May 25, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Louis, may I ask what piece of legislation you are referring to? I'm not trying to argue with you I just want to be sure I know what piece you are speaking about. Thanks.
Jimmy Thompson May 25, 2011 at 04:27 PM
Louis, a couple of thoughts. 1) it seems to me that you are confusing two very different issues. 2) I assume that you are talking about the gay marriage legislation when you talk about your civil liberties. From what I read in media accounts, the Delegate was among the few that seemed open to trying to find a way that conveyed equal rights under the law while still providing adequate protections for the church -- be that through civil unions or an amendment to the proposed marriage law. I'd hardly consider that "stonewalling." Honestly, I wish there were more people that tried to balance the interests of all of the citizens they represent.
Louis Gephardt May 25, 2011 at 09:25 PM
That's the insidious part of the whole thing: it was done in the name of protecting churches. From what? At no point in the history of this country has any legislative body had the power to dictate to churches what they can and cannot do when it comes to marriage. My esteemed delegate may have looked like he was trying to protect churches, but it was a flimsy argument to begin with: the churches were never in any danger. Legalizing Gay Marriage never, meant that any religious organization had to recognize it. It's analogous to religiously oriented hospitals: under no legal obligation to perform abortions if abortion is against the teachings of their religion, despite the fact that abortions are legal. As to the argument of civil unions vs. marriage, it is a question of separate but equal. You cannot have one legal institution for one group of people and another legal institution for another group of people. Either say that everyone, gay or not, has a "civil union" in the eyes of the law or say that everyone, gay or straight, is married in the eyes of the law. You cannot have marriage for one and civil unions for the other. Plessy v. Furgeson: The United States Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of separate but equal violates the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection. So while it's nice to say he tried to compromise, I don't believe that to be true. He knew what he was doing.
Jimmy Thompson May 26, 2011 at 12:45 PM
While I don't know enough about the amendment to know what it would or would not have done, I have to take the guy at his word. If he felt strongly about it -- and said he was trying to compromise -- then I believe him. I appreciate where you are coming from and you are certainly entitled to that opinion, but I take people at their word until they prove to me otherwise.
lesley June 01, 2011 at 11:50 AM
really you keep raising cigarett taxes and dont want to raise the tax on alchol! alcochol kills more people then cigarettes! the liquor also causes more crimes then cigarettes!

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