March 2, 2010

Analysis: New poll says voters support alcohol tax hike

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Legislative leaders have repeatedly pledged to pass no new taxes this election year, but a new poll says half of Maryland voters think they should make an exception for a 10-cent per drink tax on alcohol.

The telephone survey of 402 likely voters last week by the Opinion Works polling firm in Annapolis is part of a push for higher alcohol taxes to support aid to people with developmental disabilities, mental health problems and addictions and to expand health care coverage.

The poll found 57 percent of voters strongly support an alcohol tax hike dedicated to these services, and an additional 15 percent favor this move, but not strongly.

Slightly lower percentages – 55 percent and 12 percent – favor the tax “to help address the state’s budget deficit.”

The support for the tax hike comes despite the fact that “Marylanders continue to suffer significant economic stress,” said pollster Steve Raabe.

“In our own polling, voters continue to see the Maryland economy getting worse rather than better by three-to-one,” Raabe said in an analysis sent to the Maryland chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which commissioned the poll. “Approximately two-thirds of Marylanders worry about money in their households. This is not an environment where the public is hungry for new taxes.”

The poll also found that 41 percent believe “the alcohol industry has too much … influence on the decisions of the Maryland state legislature,” but an even larger number of voters, 42 percent, said they didn’t know enough to comment.

The polling questions do not tell respondents that 10 cents a drink represents a 10-fold increase on Maryland’s current levy of about a penny a drink. Maryland has some of the lowest taxes on beer, wine and spirits in the country, and they haven’t been raised in more than 30 years.

The tax hike would raise the price of a six-pack of beer by 60 cents. The alcohol taxes are paid by the distributors, and not consumers, who also pay sales tax on their alcohol purchases.

The poll has a margin of error of about 5 percent.

One of the questions says: “State government leaders in Maryland have declared that there will be no new tax increases in 2010. Do you think they should make an exception to raise the alcohol tax?” Half the respondents said yes, and 35 percent said no.

–Len Lazarick