By Len Lazarick
Two hundred sixteen (216) candidates for the Maryland General Assembly have signed a pledge to raise cigarette taxes next year by $1 a pack, disappointing a coalition of business groups that had asked candidates not to sign the promise.
There are enough incumbents and front-runners on the list to win passage of the measure in the state Senate and House of Delegates.
At least one of the candidates on the list, the rare Republican signatory, said he would only vote for the hike if other taxes were lowered.
The pledge to the Health Care for All Coalition, headed by Vincent DeMarco, is designed to raise money for health care spending and reduce cigarette consumption by increasing its cost, especially among teenagers starting to smoke, considered the most price sensitive consumers.
DeMarco has successfully led campaigns to repeatedly increase taxes on all tobacco products and alcohol as well. He’s duplicating the successful strategy from past campaigns. This includes polling to show public support for the move and for candidates that support the move; media coverage about that public support and then getting candidates to pledge their own support.
Even though higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol are not designated as special funds for health care, most of the increased revenues from the tax hikes “is going to the purposes that we agreed to,” DeMarco said. The hikes contributed to a 32% reduction in smoking and 70,000 saved lives. The money, about $120 million a year, has also gone to expand Medicaid coverage for over 100,000 people, he said.
Businesses asked candidates to forego pledge
Four weeks ago,a dozen business groups representing thousand of small business owners in Maryland sent a letter to all candidates for the General Assembly asking them “not to sign any pledges or commitments that will make Maryland’s small businesses less competitive with surrounding jurisdictions (e.g. new taxes).”
Ellen Valentino of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Dealers Association, a spokesman for the group, called the pledges “unfortunate.”
“Candidates work very hard for the privilege to come to Annapolis to legislate,” Valentino said. “The hearing process is the key to the passage of new laws and taxes. It is unfortunate that commitments have been made to impose a new tax without small businesses being given the opportunity to see a proposal and have their voices heard.”
Dr. Tim Robinson, a Republican candidate for state Senate in central Baltimore County District 42, is shown as an endorser, but he said he could only support a tobacco tax hike if there was a reduction in some other tax.
“Since I know that’s not going to happen, I don’t support the tax,” said Robinson, an anesthesiologist. “We’ve had this incredible increase in spending, and I don’t see how we can continue to afford that kind of increase.”