Harford Co. leaders decry proposed tax on snacks

Officials say levy would threaten Frito-Lay plan

March 21, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Harford County delegates to the General Assembly are rallying their forces to block passage of a proposed 5 percent sales tax on snack foods that county officials say would threaten the future expansion of the Frito-Lay Inc. plant in Aberdeen.

With 418 workers, Frito-Lay is the county's largest manufacturing employer and a major contributor to the county's fast-growing economic base.

Lynn Markley, a spokeswoman for Frito-Lay, which is based in Plano, Texas, said the company is not speculating on its plans but added, "A snack-food tax would certainly hinder any type of expansion" in Maryland.

"It's hard to invest in a state, the only state in all of the United States," she said, "that has a snack-food tax."

Markley said the Aberdeen plant has the capacity for expansion, but the company could expand its facilities in York, Pa., or Lynchburg, Va.

The Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a $23.6 billion state budget that included a snack-food tax designed to raise $16 million a year.

County Executive James M. Harkins said that revenue would come at a big price to Harford County.

Harkins said Frito-Lay purchased 100 acres adjacent to its Hickory Drive plant in 2001 for expansion. "They have not told us that they will not expand at Aberdeen, but the bottom line is that this tax puts any future expansion there in serious jeopardy."

Harkins said he would be making a direct appeal to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to kill the snack tax. "To my knowledge," he said, "this only affects Harford County."

Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, said his office is also working on a plan to eliminate the snack tax.

If the tax is approved, Maryland would be the only state to have a snack tax, according to the Snack Food Association.

Republican Del. Barry Glassman, chairman of the Harford County delegation, said county lawmakers hope to meet with Del. Sheila E. Hixson, Democratic chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, by tomorrow and convince her of the need to eliminate the tax from the House bill.

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