Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

January 24, 2004

Higher taxes on alcohol raise funds, save lives

With the state facing a large budget deficit in 2004, why aren't legislators talking about raising the tax on alcohol?

According to a study conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Maryland has not raised the tax on hard liquor since 1955 and has not raised the tax on beer and wine since 1972.

Maryland's excise tax on alcohol is among the lowest in the United States. Only eight states have a lower beer tax, only 10 states have a lower wine tax, and Maryland has the lowest tax on hard liquor in the nation.

Just increasing the excise tax on beer to the national average could generate more than $14 million in new revenue for the state.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, increasing alcohol prices is also an effective means of reducing alcohol problems. Higher taxes would lead to higher prices and thus to a reduction in the level of drinking among youths, who are very price-sensitive.

Higher alcohol taxes would also reduce traffic fatalities, especially among young drivers, and could cause a reduction in such crimes as spouse abuse, child abuse and rape.

Maryland already raised the tobacco tax and is using the funds to help offset the deficit and pay for education and prevention programs to keep children and adults from smoking.

The question remains: Why haven't we discussed doing the same thing for alcohol?

Before we create another possible addiction (i.e.: gambling) to raise revenues, why don't we first look at raising the tax on our most favorite addiction -- alcohol?

Michael M. Gimbel

Baltimore

The writer is director of the Sheppard Pratt Health System's Office of Substance Abuse Education.

Think about where your tax money goes

Maryland and Anne Arundel County are facing budget shortfalls that demand strong leadership to meet the legitimate but increasingly expensive needs of a vibrant community. In this context, I find it disturbing that some people are perpetuating the myth that taxes and tax increases are dirty words, something to be avoided at all costs.

Some may be against paying taxes because they misunderstand the direct role taxes play in providing police and fire protection, effective schools, recreation and health services, as well as the many other amenities demanded and expected by citizens. There is no free ride -- you get what you pay for.

Our governor and anti-tax activists seem intent on reducing the cost of government regardless of the impact on the community. Their reasoning seems very short-sighted and self-focused.

In addition, the long-held notion that those who are better off financially should contribute more seems to be dying. Our understanding of civic responsibility is becoming distorted and very self-serving.

The relatively painless idea of increasing the state sales tax by one cent seems like a reasonable plan to return our state to fiscal health.

I can only hope that the governor and legislative leaders, at all levels, back off their soapboxes and work together to pass budgets that reflect compromise and bipartisan cooperation and fully address the fiscal needs we face.

Don Patterson

Arnold

Fund health care through gambling

An Institute of Medicine report last week recommended establishing universal health insurance coverage in the United States by 2010 ("Health coverage for all Americans by 2010 urged," Jan. 15).

It noted that more than 43 million Americans lack health coverage and that many others are underinsured. Furthermore, many workers who do have health insurance coverage through their jobs are being asked to assume more and more of the costs.

Strong economic arguments are being made to uncouple the cost of health insurance from the cost of doing business in the United States. Health insurance costs for employees and retirees put American companies at a distinct disadvantage in the world marketplace and help drive the exodus of jobs offshore.

As the legislature convenes, I urge our elected officials to examine using gambling revenues to fund universal health care.

This may be a more reliable option for Marylanders than gambling with employment-based health insurance.

Dr. Charles E. Wiles

Baltimore

Focus not on `fault' but on college access

According to The Sun's recent article on its annual survey, the newspaper asked respondents: "What is most at fault for rising tuition at the state's university system?" ("The Maryland Poll," Jan. 11).

The question is structured to solicit negative responses. And by using the word "fault," it implies that mismanagement occurred.

Given the state's current fiscal crisis, state support for the University System of Maryland (USM) has declined. USM regents and officials are working to meet the system's obligations to Marylanders, including fulfilling its state-mandated goal to achieve and sustain national eminence.

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