Most county legislators oppose cigarette tax

January 14, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

All but one Carroll County legislator opposed a 25-cent cigarette tax proposed yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer that could generate almost $900,000 for the county.

Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll-Baltimore County, said he would support the tax.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll-Baltimore County, said he would support the proposal only if it included financial assistance for tobacco farmers.

In his noon State of the State address in the House chambers, Governor Schaefer said the new tax would generate $70 million to be used for health, education, public safety and other programs.

Carroll would receive $891,260 if the tax increase were approved and generated the expected revenue, said Fred Puddester, deputy secretary of the state budget department.

Of that amount, the county and six of its towns would receive $645,149 to help pay for state-mandated programs, Mr. Puddester said. The public schools would receive $246,111.

Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick and Howard, said he opposed a new tax, but would study the governor's proposal because the programs it would benefit are worthy ones.

Mr. Smelser, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said legislators may be able to pay for the programs without a tax increase. He predicted the administration would have a tough time enlisting support for an increase.

"I think it's going to be hard in an election year," he said.

Del. Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll; Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll-Howard; and Del. Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, said they opposed the tax increase proposal.

Mr. Elliott said he would study it because the programs it would support are "laudable."

"It might make it difficult to vote against," he said.

Governor Schaefer said a tax increase would help discourage people from smoking, but Mr. Matthews said he did not believe that. Smokers will visit another state to buy cigarettes, he said.

Mr. Haines said a higher cigarette tax might mean fewer cigarettes would be sold, which could hurt Maryland's tobacco farmers. The state should provide low-interest loans for farmers who want to switch to other crops, he said.

The governor also proposed stronger gun laws, including a ban on assault pistols. In the Carroll delegation, only Mr. LaMotte said he would support that plan.

Mr. Schaefer said, "I hear from people all over Maryland who want us to do more this year to make them feel safer and be safer."

The proposal would not affect shotguns or rifles and would not hurt hunters, the governor said.

Mr. Dixon said, "Passing another law is not a solution to the problem. I call that kind of legislation 'feel-good legislation.' "

Instead, he said, the judicial system should impose "swifter punishment" on criminals.

Rather than state legislators passing more gun laws, Mr. Matthews said, Baltimore should enforce its laws. Uneven and lax enforcement in the city causes many crime problems, he said.

He suggested a state "stop and frisk" law that would give police the authority to stop any person and search for weapons, even without cause.

Governor Schaefer also suggested that legislators allow school systems to try year-round schedules. The plan would allow a school system to accommodate more students by using buildings for 12 months.

Students still would attend classes 180 days a year, but would have shorter breaks throughout the year instead of a 10-week summer vacation.

Mr. Haines did not like the idea and said it would not save money or improve student performance. He said the state should consider allowing students to graduate after completing the 11th grade. Students are ready for higher education at that age, and the change would save space and money, he said.

He said he has not studied the idea, but would.

Mr. Elliott said the state should try a pilot year-round school program.

"All we can do is try," he said.

Mr. Dixon, who has heard every State of the State address the governor has made during his two terms, said the speech was "typical William Donald Schaefer -- upbeat, optimistic. He was assertive. He felt great about our state. He felt great about our people. He was very encouraging about our future."

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