Fruity liquor merits beer tax

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ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said yesterday he won’t veto a bill that will allow fruit-flavored alcoholic drinks to be taxed as beer — at a much lower rate than liquor — but he said he wants to revisit the controversial issue next year.

Mr. O'Malley said the absence of his signature “should indicate to the General Assembly that there is work left to be done.” Attorney General Doug Gansler has issued an opinion saying the so-called “alcopops” drinks should be classified as liquor.

Mr. O'Malley said in a statement that he wants to work with advocates on both sides to “build a broader consensus for regulating these alcoholic beverages.”

“I will, therefore, be working with the attorney general and interested parties in the upcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly to build a broader consensus for regulating more effectively what many would rightly conclude is a fourth category of alcoholic beverages,” Mr. O'Malley said in a statement.

The alcopops name comes from the variety of soda-poplike flavors that the drinks contain, such as grape and raspberry. They also are known for their hard-liquor potency.

Mr. Gansler’s office issued a ruling last month classifying alcopops as liquor, not beer. It’s significant, because liquor is taxed at a rate of $1.50 a gallon, and beer is only taxed at 9 cents a gallon in Maryland. The bill means that Mr. Gansler’s definition won’t stand.

Meanwhile, Mr. O'Malley decided to veto a bill that would have required the Maryland Department of the Environment to reimburse Anne Arundel County for the cost of environmental health monitoring and testing. It’s Mr. O'Malley’s first veto from the session, which adjourned last month.

The governor said he would be willing to have the discussion in next year’s session.

Mr. O'Malley said the measure “diverts resources of the department to reimburse a single local government a specific amount for a past event, and an uncapped, indeterminate amount for future events, for functions the county has agreed to perform.”

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