Session 2011 Preview: Wine Shipment, Tax Hike On Agenda
By: Robert Lang
Sunday, January 09, 2011
Legislation to increase the tax on beer wine and liquor by 10-cents per drink has already received a lot of attention from lawmakers and health advocates.
Health Care For All, a group led by veteran lobbyist Vincent Demarco is pushing lawmakers to approve the tax to fund programs for people with disabilities.
Their advocates say current funding for state programs for the disabled is inadequate, and the tax on beer and wine has not been raised since 1972, and the tax on liquor has not been raised since 1955. Maryland's taxes on alcohol rank 47th in the country.
Demarco's group says it has 19 senators and 56 delegates who are willing to sponsor the legislation. All of the proposed sponsors are Democrats.
The group claims it will generate $215-million in new revenue. It proposes using 15% of the money to pay for programs for people with disabilities, another 15% for the state's mental health care trust fund, another 15% for addiction treatment programs and 42.75% to pay for health insurance for childless adults.
Senate President Mike Miller says that while Demarco's group has sponsors, it does not have the 24 votes needed for the tax to pass the Senate, and the 71 needed to pass the House of Delegates.
Miller also questions the amount of money the tax hike will generate and disagrees with spending so much of the money for health care programs.
"I'm not opposed to raising taxes on alcohol, wine and beer but at the same time it is going to be reasonable and it is going to support the general budget. It is not going to support any special group of people," Miller told WBAL News.
Republicans oppose the tax hike, as to bar and liquor store owners who say the tax will impact their business.
At Calvert Wine and Spirits in Hunt Valley, a manager told WBAL News that his store would lose "a significant amount" of business especially from customers who live Pennsylvania, where alcohol taxes are higher. The store is about 20 miles from the Pennsylvania border.
"I would say about 25% of our business is from Pennsylvania," manager Gordon Kaufman told WBAL News.
"It (the tax hike) is a bad idea."
A spokesman for Governor Martin O'Malley said that the tax hike is not on the governor's agenda.
"Whatever form it takes, the governor will weigh a decision about the need to fund programs for disabled, and how to pay for that."
Abbruzzese said O'Malley's budget to be released next week will not include any tax hikes.
Wine Shipment & Corkage Bill
Besides the alcohol tax, lawmakers will consdier two separate bills related to wine.
One bill would allow consumers to purchase cases of wine directly from wineeries, rather than buying wine froma retail store.
The bill would allow consumers to bypass the state's current "three-tier system" in which alcoholic beverages are purchased by wholesalers who then sell them to retailers.
Supporters of the bill say it would allow consumers to save money by purchasing wine directly from the winery.
Kauffman told WBAL News he supports the bill noting it would allow consumers to buy rare wines that are not sold in stores.
Opponents say the direct shipments would hurt retailers and would make it easier for those under the legal drinking age to buy wine.
Kauffman points out that those who are underage who want to drink are not going to wait five to seven days for a delivery of a case of wine.
The Maryland General Assembly is also expected to consider a "corkage" bill which would allow for consumers to bring their own wine to a restaurant, even if it has an alcohol license. The restaurant would charge a customer a fee for serving their bottle of wine.
Jake Gazurian, an employee of Calvert Wine and Spirits, stocks shelves with wine bottles. (Photo by WBAL's Robert Lang)
Besides wine, the proposed tax would also impact beer....
..as well as liquor. (Photo by WBAL's Robert Lang)
Wine bottles sit on the shelf at Calvert Liquors in Hunt Valley. (Photo by WBAL's Robert Lang)