By KELSEY MILLER
ANNAPOLIS (January 24, 2012)—A coalition that pushed an alcohol tax increase last year is calling the tax a success and turning its efforts toward assuring that the new revenue is spent the way it was intended.
Representatives of the Lorraine Sheehan Alcohol Tax Coalition said Tuesday that the recent increase of the alcohol tax from 6 percent to 9 percent has been successful at achieving its two main goals: raising money for health care and potentially decreasing underage drinking and alcohol abuse.
Of the $70 million in expected revenue from the tax, $64 million in Gov. Martin O'Malley's FY2013 budget is proposed for health care and community services.
The group now aims to keep the current budget plan intact as it goes to the General Assembly.
"The story's not done, we need to convince the legislature to keep the budget as the governor proposed it," said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.
Projections based on other states with similar increases show the tax should cause a nearly 2 percent decrease in alcohol consumption, according to testimony provided last year by Dr. David H. Jernigan, a professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at Johns Hopkins University.
Most funds raised by the tax went to schools in the first year, DeMarco said.
"We were fine using some of the money for school construction because it was just one year," he said. "Now that money is all being used for health care and community services."
Part of the tax revenue was budgeted in FY2012 to help more Marylanders with developmental disabilities receive community service. This $15 million remains in the current plan.
This year, the governor budgeted $5.3 million to support recovery for those suffering from substance abuse, and $4 million to minimize health disparities.
O'Malley included $14.3 million for rebalancing, or favoring community-based care instead of long-term institutions.
Also included is $500,000 to support a fund for identification cards for the homeless, who need them to apply for jobs and receive necessary benefits, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist who opposed the tax last year, said the increase hit businesses hard.
"It really did dramatically hurt a number of small retail businesses," he said.
However, despite these difficulties, Bereano hopes to see the revenue go towards its original intent.
"The tax was proposed for a specific reason and purpose," he said. "The whole argument for the increase was the application of the money to the developmentally disabled ... which is wonderful."