Schaefer asks executives to back tax

February 09, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer beat the bushes again yesterday in search of support for his proposed 25-cents-a-pack increase in the state cigarette tax, this time turning to the leaders of Maryland's seven most populous subdivisions for help.

Using millions of dollars in new state aid as a lure, he managed to flush out a covey of Democrats who pledged their support for the election year tax increase: Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter and Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening. But their Republican counterparts, Anne Arundel's Robert R. Neall, Howard County's Charles I. Ecker and Baltimore County's Roger B. Hayden, were noncommittal.

Harford County Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann did not attend yesterday's meeting and could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Schaefer had summoned the so-called "Big Seven" leaders to his office to drum up support for the tax, which would raise an estimated $70 million for various school and health programs, but which is in trouble in the General Assembly because it would lift state spending beyond an agreed-upon limit.

The governor reminded them that roughly $50 million of the tax revenue would be returned directly to local subdivisions, and half of that could be used to offset the cost of other government mandates or for any other purpose the counties may have. The proposed increase, which would raise the state's cigarette tax to 61 cents a pack, will be the subject of a public hearing Friday before the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee.

Mr. Glendening, who is a candidate for governor, said he was uncertain if he would personally testify for the tax increase, but said, "I will work with Mayor Schmoke and others to support it."

Mayor Schmoke also missed yesterday's meeting, but sent a letter supporting the tax increase, saying Baltimore not only needed the extra revenue, but that boosting the tax would deter smoking, which in turn would lower health care costs.

Mr. Potter said Montgomery County, the state's wealthiest jurisdiction, also needs the money, and said he supports the efforts to curb smoking, which he called "a real poison."

Yesterday's meeting marked the second time in the past six days Mr. Schaefer has met with county officials to seek their support of the tax.

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