- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2011

ANNAPOLIS – The General Assembly voted late Monday night to approve an increase in the state alcohol sales tax, sending the legislation to the governor on the session’s final day.

The House and Senate each approved the bill, which would increase the sales tax on alcohol from 6 percent to 9 percent, effective July 1. The bodies also gave final passage to a controversial plan that would dedicate $47.5 million of the tax’s $85 million in projected first-year revenue to school construction. Another $15 million in revenue would go toward programs for the developmentally disabled.

“Obviously, it’s not perfect … but a good thing is happening here,” said Sen. Richard Madaleno, Montgomery Democrat. “It’s going to improve schools and it’s going to create jobs.”

Senate and House Republicans argued during floor debates Monday that the construction funds were allotted to heavily favor Democratic counties. Baltimore and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties would each receive $9 million, while clusters of counties in western Maryland, southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore would share respective pots of $750,000, $1.25 million and $1.25 million.

Republicans also argued the tax would harm small businesses and that too little of the money would go toward helping the developmentally disabled – a cause whose activists have long driven the fight for an alcohol tax increase.

“This was a political situation with nothing based on fact,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican who called the proposal “$47.5 million divided up in the House on a political mission.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said earlier Monday that areas like Baltimore and Montgomery County have greater need for new facilities, and that areas like the Eastern Shore and western Maryland have in recent years received more school-construction funding than other areas when broken down by funds per legislative district.

A stipulation in the state budget will give another $12 million of the alcohol tax’s first-year revenue to Baltimore schools, $9 million to Prince George’s schools and a combined $1.6 million to schools in Allegany and Garrett counties.

“The Senate initiated money to [four] subdivisions, and the House initiated money to every subdivision,” Mr. Busch said. “We don’t believe any of the people criticizing the distribution were going to vote for the bill anyway.”

Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to sign the bills this week.

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