- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2012

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray doesn’t speak Chinese. Not a big deal, but it made for some good times on a trip to the Far East earlier this year.

Mr. Gray has a five-year vision for economic development in the city, which includes foreign investment from Asian countries such as Qatar and China. He traveled to cities including as Beijing and Shanghai to establish business ties, and local universities have assisted him in his ambitious plans for the District.

Doug Guthrie, dean of the business school at George Washington University, accompanied the mayor on his jaunt to China. Mr. Guthrie spoke at the unveiling of Mr. Gray’s economic plan Wednesday. The dean spoke fluent Chinese during the trip, prompting a member of the delegation to remark to Mr. Gray that Mr. Guthrie spoke rather well, didn’t he?

“You’re asking me? How would I know?” Mr. Gray recalled Wednesday. “Sounds good to me.”

More new taxes?

Vincent DeMarco is at it again. The Maryland health lobbyist announced last week that he plans to push for an increase in the state’s cigarette tax during next year’s General Assembly.

Mr. DeMarco, who has successfully fought in the past two years to raise taxes on alcohol and non-cigarette tobacco products, said he plans to lobby lawmakers to raise the $2-a-pack tax to $3 as a way to raise revenue and promote health across the state.

The state’s cigarette tax was just 36 cents a pack in 1999, but was hiked to 66 cents that year, then to $1 in 2001 and to $2 in 2007.

Mr. DeMarco, who fought for the increases as president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, is nothing if not persistent. He has gained the reputation over time as a powerful advocate who never stops working, much to the chagrin of some lawmakers.

Delegate Frank S. Turner, Howard Democrat, joked with Mr. DeMarco before a committee hearing last year that legislators would raise another one of the state’s sin taxes if he agreed to retire.

Sen. David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican, has long argued that Mr. DeMarco’s efforts do more harm than good by not curtailing usage but simply forcing residents to buy their booze and tobacco out of state. Mr. DeMarco contends that studies show tax increases have decreased usage, particularly among teens.

“It doesn’t mean it’s the smartest move in the world,” Mr. Brinkley said last week about the $3 cigarette tax proposal. “But that’s never stopped him before.”

Tom Howell Jr. and David Hill contributed to this report.

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