MARYLAND POLITICS

Duncan Ties Health Plan to Higher Cigarette Tax

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By Ann E. Marimow and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan called yesterday for doubling the state's cigarette tax to expand health-care coverage for uninsured children, to cut the cost of prescription drugs and to boost spending on treatment for drug addicts.

Duncan, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, became the first statewide candidate to embrace a proposal by a coalition of community organizations that would raise the cigarette tax to $2 a pack to provide more than $200 million in health-related funding.

"Improving health-care access and cost is not going to be easy, and it's not going to happen overnight," Duncan said, standing in front of a Capitol Heights clinic in the primary election battleground of Prince George's County. "The consequences of not acting, of letting this health-care crisis continue, are far too high -- and the risks far too great."

But some Democrats questioned the wisdom of backing a tax increase in an election year when Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to run on a pledge to improve the state's finances without raising a broad-based tax.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) predicted that Duncan's health-care plan would not hurt in the Democratic primary, in which he faces Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. But in a general election, he said, "he'll be classified as a tax-and-spend liberal."

Ehrlich opposed similar legislation, known as the Healthy Maryland Initiative, which stalled in a General Assembly committee this year.

"The governor is always on the side of lower taxes," spokesman Henry Fawell said, "and Doug Duncan is unfortunately demonstrating he's always on the side of higher taxes."

Duncan acknowledged that his plan might be unpopular with some people, but he took aim at the governor yesterday for "rhetoric and press releases but no results." As part of his announcement, Duncan pledged to reduce the number of uninsured children in Maryland by at least one-third by 2009.

Among the other elements of his plan, it would:

ยท Reproduce a Montgomery drug discount program at the state level. In Montgomery, he said, discount cards have reduced costs by 20 percent and saved participants more than $2 million.


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