- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. remains committed to keeping residents from paying for the state's $1.8 billion budget shortfall.
Though he has promised no sales-tax or income-tax increases, Mr. Ehrlich is also saying no to other fee and tax increases that lawmakers want as an alternative to legalizing slot machines.
The Ehrlich administration did not support legislation yesterday to increase the alcohol tax. The proposal will also face strong opposition from lobbyists, who have fought such an increase since 1972.
"You cannot keep going to the same old taxpayers and asking them to pay more and more and more, whether it is a penny on the sales tax, a fee increase or a liquor-tax increase," said Paul Schurick, Mr. Ehrlich's communications director.
Still, supporters say the tax increase on distilled spirits, beer and wine would generate an additional $95 million a year to help close the budget gap.
The governor also came out against a proposed 5-cent increase in the gasoline tax to bolster the ailing Transportation Trust Fund. He considered such an increase during the campaign but now wants to postpone it for at least a year.
Mr. Ehrlich said the same thing about an income-tax increase.
State lawmakers are also considering an 8 percent increase in corporate income tax, a 4-cent increase in the state property-tax rate, as much as a 36-cent-a-pack increase in the tobacco tax, and a new taxes on such services as financial, business, professional and repair services.
Mr. Schurick said none of the proposed taxes, except on gas and liquor, would be "particularly palatable for us."
Mr. Ehrlich balanced his budget proposal, submitted last week, without significant tax or fee increases in part by eliminating 956 vacant government jobs, temporarily taking $400 million out of transportation funds, cutting about $240 million from higher education and state agencies, and with an estimated $395 million in revenue if slot machines are made legal and placed at four horse tracks.
Allowing slot machines is the most fiercely contested part of Mr. Ehrlich's budget, despite critics being unable to find an alternative that could generate so much money.
Delegate Bill Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat and slots opponent, introduced the liquor-tax bill. He said higher alcohol taxes were long overdue in Maryland and were an alternative to slots.
The bill would created a uniform 6-cent tax on spirits, beer and wine, which are now taxed at different rates.
To do that, the tax on a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor would increase by 4.24 cents, the tax on a 12-ounce beer by 5.16 cents and the tax on a 6-ounce glass of wine by 4.13 cents.
"It is a minuscule amount," Mr. Bronrott said "The only people this will greatly affect are heavy drinkers."
Not all liquor-related industries are taking an immediate hard line against the proposed increase. The Maryland Restaurant Association, which opposes slots, is refraining from taking a position on the alcohol tax or the hundreds of other revenue-generating bills expected this year until the proposals go through committee hearings.
"We understand the state's revenue needs and that we are in a budget crises," said Melvin R. Thompson, the association's government relations director. "We will wait until all the proposals are out there."

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