Friday, January 08, 2010

The Alcohol Tax: Hope for the Most Vulnerable

By Aaron Kaufman.

As the General Assembly is soon set to reconvene, lawmakers face a clear choice: either following the desires of the liquor lobby or the needs of those like me with developmental disabilities. For the past several years, Delegate Bill Bronrott (D-16) and Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) have introduced common sense legislation to raise the alcohol tax 5 cents at the wholesale level. (Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez has a similarly positive bill she will once again introduce.) This increase would benefit the 19,000 individuals who are currently waiting for DD services. The tax increase would also support services for those recovering from addictions and the state’s general fund.

The tax increase is supported by the Baltimore Sun editorial board as well as the Carroll County Times editorial board. It is also supported by more than 83% of Marylanders according to a recent Gonzales Research Poll.

The tax on beer and wine has not been raised since President Nixon was in office and the tax on spirits has not been raised since the time of President Eisenhower! The tax increase has not come to a vote in either chamber because of the strenuous objections of State Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-27) and longtime Delegate Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-20). Sheila has served us well in many ways for so many years and is a friend of mine. (I’ve contributed to her 2010 reelection campaign). However I could not disagree more with her on this issue and I hope she allows the bill to come to a vote in the Ways and Means Committee. It is my understanding that she has recently softened her longtime stance. Delegate Craig Rice (D-15), also opposes the alcohol tax increase, yet he pledged to a group of disabilities advocates on October 5, 2009 to put in a bill with an alternative revenue stream to fund DD services. Hopefully, he will fulfill his promise. Unfortunately, Governor O’Malley has chosen to remain neutral on this topic during his entire tenure in office.

Senator Miller has a genuine conflict of interest. His brother David Miller owns BK Miller Meats and Liquor in Clinton, Maryland. The liquor store makes between $10 and $20 million dollars annually. With such a clear conflict of interest, I would hope that Senator Miller recuses himself from all deliberations of the alcohol tax this session.

The choice for lawmakers this session is to choose between the liqueur lobby and people with disabilities. We will be watching to see where the lawmakers place their priorities.

P.S. To hear some of the real and desperate stories of some of the 19,000 people on the waiting list go to

Disclosures: I am the Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission on People with Disabilities. I am also a member of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council. The Council supports increasing the tax The Commission has no stated position. However, these views in this note are entirely my own and not necessary those of the Commissions or Council. Also, I have contributed to Rich, Ana and Bill’s campaigns and they are wonderful friends and mentors.