Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

January 24, 2007

Lawmakers to push $2 cigarette tax

State legislators say they will continue to push for a cigarette tax increase to expand Medicaid and pay for drug treatment programs despite Gov. Martin O'Malley's stance against raising taxes in his first year in office.

"I know he said he's not going to initiate any new taxes," said Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat. "That's fine. He's not going to initiate this. We're going to initiate this and put it on his desk."

Hubbard and other backers of the so-called Healthy Maryland Initiative announced at a news conference yesterday that they plan to file legislation within days that would double the cigarette tax to $2 a pack. Meanwhile, they are enlisting co-sponsors and hope to at least tap the 80 legislators who endorsed the proposal during the last election season.

The higher tobacco tax would raise more than $200 million in the first year and at least $170 million each subsequent year. "The money we raise here we're going to be able to put into a lot of our most urgent health needs in the state and at the same time discourage smoking," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Expanding health coverage to the uninsured, who number about 780,000 in Maryland, is shaping up to be a major issue in this year's General Assembly session. O'Malley and legislative leaders are working on various proposals, including an expansion of government programs, although funding is still being worked out.

"Talking about a tax before you've got a policy initiative is like putting the cart before the horse," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

LAURA SMITHERMAN

Environment deputy named

Robert M. Summers, a 23-year-veteran of the Maryland Department of the Environment who holds a doctorate in environmental engineering, has been named the department's deputy secretary.

Summers was appointed to the position by MDE's new secretary, Shari T. Wilson. Wilson, who helped lead the Glendening administration's Smart Growth Initiative, was named secretary two weeks ago by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Summers has long commanded respect in the environmental community as someone who understands regulatory issues and can explain them to the public. As director of the Water Management Administration for the last six years, he managed 300 employees in seven programs, including overseeing upgrades to the state's wastewater treatment plants under the new "flush tax."

"He's superb," said M. Gordon "Reds" Wolman, a Johns Hopkins University geography professor who chairs a state committee charged with protecting water resources. "He's knowledgeable, he's balanced, he's thoughtful, he's concerned about the environment in the appropriate way to do the best possible job. I think he will be excellent in the role."

Summers' strong science background stands in contrast to several of the top officials in the MDE under the Ehrlich administration, many of whom came from private industry. Lawmakers and environmental activists expressed outrage two years ago when they learned that then-MDE deputy Jonas Jacobson, a former Constellation Energy lobbyist, had helped kill a bill that would have reduced the state's air pollution.

RONA KOBELL

Sensitivity training scheduled

Maryland lawmakers are participating this week in harassment prevention and sensitivity training, the first seminar of its kind for at least a decade, officials said. House Speaker Michael E. Busch has made the session mandatory for delegates. Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller strongly suggested that his members attend.

A representative from the Center for Ethics in Government at the National Conference of State Legislatures is conducting the meetings, which will be held today and tomorrow and are closed to the press.

Jennifer Skalka

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