Lobbied intensely by representatives of the tobacco and alcohol industries, increasing numbers of legislators now appear reluctant to pass Gov. Harry Hughes' proposed new taxes on cigarettes, wine, beer and hard liquor and are looking for alternative funding mechanisms to the taxes.
Today Dels. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's) and William H. Cox Jr. (D-Harford), both members of the House committee considering the taxes, introduced a pair of "instant lottery" bills. Devlin said they would be worth $18 million to the state, about $4 million less than the so-called "sin" taxes are expected to raise.
"We did it because the votes just aren't there on the Ways and Means Committee for those taxes," said Devlin, the committee vice chairman. "We know we have to come up with funding for the programs that are on the governor's contingency list, but there seems to be a very strong anti-tax feeling on the committee."
On the Senate side, Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Budget and Tax Committee, said today that the sin taxes were being viewed by the committee "strictly as a last resort."
"They are the bottom of the barrel," Levitan said. "If we can't save any money on the pension program this year, if something like the lotteries can't be done, if nothing else works, then the taxes will pass. Otherwise, they're dead. I'd say right now there are no more than four or five votes out of 13 for them in this committee."
Members of the governor's staff said today that no one in the legislature had consulted with them about the instant lotteries but were certain Hughes would oppose them.
"Obviously we feel the instant lottery is not the way to go. If it had been we would have put it in the budget in the first place," said chief of staff Ejner J. Johnson. "If you can't get an increase in alcohol and beverage taxes now--after the state has spent millions of dollars on alcohol rehabilitation programs and after not having a tax increase since 1972--you have a problem. I don't think the taxes are an inordinate burden on the industry."
Hughes' budget includes an additional 3-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes; a 25-cent addition on the tax for a gallon of distilled liquor; a 10-cent addition on a gallon of wine, and 1 1/2 cents on a gallon of beer.
It also includes a provision for a new "Pick-4" lottery, a variation of the current three-number lottery being played in Maryland. It is expected to raise $29 million for the state.
"An instant lottery was one of the things on the table during the budget process but it was rejected," Johnson said. "The governor doesn't like lotteries in general because they're a way of taking money from the poor."
Speaker of the House Benjamin L. Cardin said he believes the taxes will pass, "if alternatives are not found," adding that he, too, is "against instant lotteries."