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Death, taxes and Vinnie DeMarco

In Maryland, there's a third thing you can count on: When January rolls around, Vinnie DeMarco will have a bill he's pushing in the General Assembly. This year's entrant looks to be a push to increase Maryland's alcohol taxes, which are among the lowest in the nation and which haven't been changed in decades, in an effort to fund an expansion of health care. He's got a press conference scheduled to push the idea on Wednesday.

Vinnie, who is the head of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, has been working for years to expand health care access in Maryland, with enough success to seriously annoy his detractors. His strategy is to go after health care expansion one piece at a time, rather than pushing for a Massachusetts-style all-in-one push for universal coverage.

This year's piece -- increasing the alcohol tax by about a dime a drink to fund health care expansion -- would seem to fly in the face of the conventional wisdom that Annapolis is all tax-increased out after the 2007 special legislative session, and that legislators will be loathe to support any expansion of spending at all amid Maryland's fiscal free-fall.

But say what you will about Vinnie, he never gives up, and he's accomplished some pretty improbable things before, notably last year's $1 a pack cigarette tax increase and the infamous Wal-Mart bill of 2005. Even if this year's session gets subsumed in fights over the budget and the death penalty, look for him to make sure health care is at least part of the discussion.

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