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Alcohol sales tax gains Senate approval

A plan to raise the sales tax on alcohol from 6 to 9 percent over the next three years won final Senate passage Wednesday.

The extra sales tax, which would be added by 1 percentage point per year, is expected to raise about $30 million next year and $85 million once fully implemented. The House of Delegates has not yet considered the proposal, which emerged late in the session.

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Several senators spoke before casting their votes; the bill passed 27-19.

Democratic Sen. Jim Mathias said he would vote against the tax because said he believed it would hurt the tourism, restaurant and bar industries that he said are vital to the Eastern Shore.

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Sen. Richard Colburn said the tax defies "Economics 101."

"Never, ever pass a tax increase during a recession," the Eastern Shore Republican said.

Other legislators objected to the Senate's plan to divide up alcohol sales revenue in the first year: $5 million would assist people with developmental disabilities, $8.8 million would flow to Prince George's County, and Baltimore City would receive $12.2 million.

Sen. David Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, said that because all alcohol consumers would pay an extra price, the money should go to the state's general fund, not to "two political jurisdictions."

Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the legislation, defended the one-year plan as necessary "to back-fill some of the deep cuts that have been made."

Because Prince George's County has grown relatively wealthier, state aid has dropped, something the alcohol tax money would help assuage. Baltimore would use the money to pay for increasing costs of retired teachers' health care.

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