Bill would assume Circuit Court costs, with a planThe...

Letters to the Editor

April 08, 1999

Bill would assume Circuit Court costs, with a plan

The Sun's March 26 article "Defeat likely for court bill" inaccurately describes House Bill 181, which passed the House of Delegates on March 28. The bill, as amended by the Appropriations Committee and passed by the House of Delegates, expresses the delegates' intent that the state pay the salaries, benefits, and operating expenses of Circuit Court masters, assignment personnel and jury management employees beginning in fiscal year 2001.

However, the House of Delegates shares Maryland Chief Judge Robert M. Bell's view that the state should not assume Circuit Court operating costs on a piecemeal basis or without a well-defined plan. We believe Maryland should only assume Circuit Court expenses according to a plan that describes the costs to be assumed, provides a time frame for assuming each cost, and analyzes the details of that assumption.

The House bill provides that the state will assume such costs under a plan that Judge Bell and the Administrative Office of the Courts will develop with the governor.

Chief Judge Bell has consistently provided strong and thoughtful leadership to the city's judiciary. He has worked to solve the current problems in the Baltimore City Circuit Court by applying improved management strategies and working with the Coordinating Council on Criminal Justice. I trust that Judge Bell will be similarly insightful in crafting a Circuit Court expense assumption plan.

The House bill requires Judge Bell to present that plan to the General Assembly and the governor by Oct. 1. This will give the governor and the General Assembly the opportunity to evaluate the plan and pass legislation implementing it before fiscal year 2001 begins.

Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore

The writer represents the 40th Legislative District in the House of Delegates.

Tobacco tax burdens consumers, limits freedom

Robert Hess misses the boat in his March 26 opinion piece, "Tax Big Tobacco." The question is not whether cigarettes are harmful -- they are -- but how far the government will go in its money-grabbing attacks on a legal industry.

Never before in our nation's history has an industry been the victim of such concerted attacks: lawsuits, tax increases, and media campaigns to name just a few. Yet the fact remains that cigarette manufactures provide a legal product to consumers who have chosen to smoke.

Mr. Hess vilifies the tobacco industry's advertising methods. Apparently he is not aware that tobacco advertising was severely restricted by the industry's recent settlement with the states. He also suggests that the funds that increased taxes generate will support smoking cessation programs. But experience with other earmarked taxes suggest that once the money is in government coffers, it will be distributed to pet projects that may have nothing to do with smoking.

Mr. Hess argues that the proposed tobacco tax will improve the lives of poor smokers by giving them incentive to quit. But if the threat of an untimely death does not deter these smokers, does he honestly believe that a $1 per pack tax increase will?

The excise tax on a pack of cigarettes sold in Maryland is already 60 cents. If the additional 45-cent increase to pay for the states' tobacco settlement, a 55-cent increase in the president's new budget, and the proposed $1 per pack Maryland tax are added, the total cost of government tobacco regulation will be well over $2 per pack. And, because excise taxes are regressive in nature, the poor bear the brunt of such increases.

Consumer choice is the foundation of a free society, and with that personal freedom comes the assumption of some risk. The government's attacks on this legal industry and its consumers violate these principles.

Gregg VanHelmond, Baltimore

More taxes won't stop teens from smoking

Your editorial "A healthy tobacco tax" (March 30) argued that, "deterring teens from becoming cigarette addicts is what this bill is all about." But if that were the case, the bill would include comprehensive programs to curb teen smoking. It does not. All the money goes instead to state's general fund, which can be spent for any purpose.

We should be alarmed that teen smoking rose by one-third during an eight-year period, especially since the government has already enacted legislation to reduce teen smoking, such as raising the minimum age and requiring ID checks. Obviously, both have failed. Joe Camel was the one responsible for teen smoking, remember? He's gone, but, teens still smoke.

As long as teens continue to be sparsely supervised by their parents and have parental role models who smoke, they will continue to smoke.

This tobacco tax would give the government millions of dollars to spend freely, and it would be the taxpayers of the state of Maryland who would foot the bill for the frivolous new spending that is sure to come.

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