Bill would direct part of cigarette tax to schools

March 15, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said last night that he will introduce a bill to raise Maryland's cigarette tax by 34 cents a pack, with half of the money dedicated to public schools.

But Taylor said the $50 million for education would not be intended to serve as a down payment on recommendations from the Thornton Commission, which has called for state support to public schools to increase by $1.1 billion annually over the next five years.

"It would bridge the gap for one year until we can get to the Thornton-formula funding next year," Taylor said of the bill, which he hopes to introduce early next week. "We're not going to pass a Thornton formula this year."

The speaker's intention to introduce cigarette tax legislation makes it more likely the General Assembly would approve an increase this year. A 34-cent increase would raise Maryland's per-pack tax to $1 and generate about $100 million for the state.

Passage is by no means guaranteed. Many senators are willing to support a cigarette tax increase, but some have said they want the money tied directly to the Thornton recommendations.

Taylor's proposal would distribute the money primarily through existing aid formulas, while the Thornton Commission would direct a greater share of state support to poorer jurisdictions.

Taylor said how to earmark the other half of the $100 million raised by the cigarette tax increase has not been decided. The House leadership would prefer that it go toward community mental health programs, but the governor wants some for areas of his budget that are being cut severely by the House and Senate.

Michael E. Morrill, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said Glendening "has indicated he would sign a cigarette tax of 34 cents or more if the funding went into priority areas like education."

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