The late-session bid to raise the sales tax on alcohol from 6 percent to 9 percent on July 1 brought howls of protest from Republicans, who accused House Democratic leaders of running roughshod over the chamber’s rules to enact the tax increase.
The approximately $85 million generated from the alcohol tax increase would be earmarked next year for disabilities programs and for school operating and construction costs — all priorities in a tough budget year for Democratic lawmakers, who hold large majorities in both chambers.
“Tyranny rises again, doesn’t it?” said Del. Donald Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel) during debate over the second of two bills needed to raise the alcohol tax . “Once again, we’ve been stuffed. We’re not honoring democracy.”
By a 26 to 19 vote, the Senate approved the final bill to put the plan in place shortly after 10:30 p.m.
At a time when many states are curtailing immigrants’ rights, both the House and Senate signed off on a compromise plan that will allow undocumented students who have graduated from Maryland high schools to pay in-state tuition at the state’s colleges.
Lawmakers also gave Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) a much-needed win on one of his legislative priorities, a bill that would steer about $70 million into public and private venture-capital programs.
That is smaller than the $100 million O’Malley had proposed to pool from insurance companies that agree to prepay their taxes at a discounted rate. But he and Democratic allies said the fund would help create jobs.
The Senate passed the bill 34 to 12, turning aside Republican objections that the plan was too complicated to be considering on the session’s final day. The House later voted 92 to 43 for the bill.
The flurry of activity came at the end of a 90-day session that had been more notable for its legislative failures than successes. Last month, a bill to legalize same-sex marriage fell a few votes short in the House.
Lawmakers also failed to embrace two of O’Malley’s other leading priorities: legislation to spur offshore wind development and to limit construction of most new septic systems to reduce pollution leaching into the Chesapeake Bay.
“I think the size of the one and the sweep of the other made the General Assembly kind of choke on those and refer them to summer study,” O’Malley said in a briefing with reporters.
That assessment rubbed some legislative leaders the wrong way.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said the governor would have been wise to have “choked” before surprising lawmakers by announcing his plan to curtail septics in his State of the State address.
On offshore wind, Miller complimented O’Malley for proposing an ambitious plan but said the governor “couldn’t explain who was going to benefit.” The bill would have forced utilities to buy wind energy at a premium and then divide the higher cost among ratepayers.