Bryan P. Sears//Daily Record Government Writer//September 8, 2016
//Daily Record Government Writer
//September 8, 2016
A proposed increase on the state’s tobacco tax appears to be on the back burner, at least until Gov. Larry Hogan is out of office.
Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said the handwriting is on the wall regarding such a tax increase, and his organization instead will focus on a package of bills related to prescription affordability and concerns about price gouging by pharmaceutical companies.
“When we make something a priority we put all of our resources into it,” DeMarco said Thursday. “We feel that this is something more important to do right now and is politically feasible.
“We don’t think a tobacco tax can be enacted,” he added.
DeMarco, who was instrumental in passing more recent tax increases on tobacco and alcohol, has backed an effort over the last two years that would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes from $2 to $3. The bill also increased taxes on other tobacco products, such as smokeless tobacco, loose tobacco and non-premium cigars.
The bill was a tough sell even in a situation where Democrats controlled the legislature and governor’s mansion; successful bills never passed with veto-proof majorities.
But Hogan’s election, not in small part due to his anti-taxes campaign, made it more difficult to pass such legislation. The bill died in committee in each of the last two years.
“We just didn’t think it was worth spending our energies on that in light of the fact that we could get something on prescription drugs,” DeMarco said. “We believe a majority of the General Assembly supports a tobacco tax (increase) but we don’t think we have a veto-proof majority. We had some hope that the governor would treat tobacco tax different.”
DeMarco hoped Hogan would see the issue not as one of taxes but rather a public health concern. DeMarco frequently cited stats he said showed the most recent tax increase had driven down the number of adult smokers in Maryland by 30 percent. (Opponents of the tax claim smokers have merely moved to buying their cigarettes in neighboring states with cheaper taxes.)
“It just made clear to us that if this legislation passed the legislature, he would veto it,” DeMarco said. “We just don’t have the override. We don’t want to put ourselves or anybody else through that when we could be focused on something that’s doable.”
“As long as that dynamic exists, that it would definitely be vetoed and we don’t have the override votes we’re not going to push it,” DeMarco said.s