Alcohol tax will save lives, fund needed services

May 11, 2011

When Governor Martin O'Malley signs Senate Bill 994, Maryland's first alcohol-specific tax increase since 1972, it will be a tremendous public health victory for Maryland. According to Professors David Jernigan and Hugh Waters of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, this new increase in the state sales tax on alcoholic beverages from 6 percent to 9 percent will lead to a nearly 2 percent decrease in alcohol consumption and prevent 14 deaths, 125 cases of aggravated assault, 26 incidents of severe violence against children, and close to 6,000 cases of alcohol abuse or dependence every year.

In addition, the measure will raise over $85 million per year. We are very pleased that the legislation specifically commits $15 million to help reduce the waiting list for people with developmental disabilities who desperately need community services. The governor also used a supplemental budget to put millions of dollars into critical mental health needs.

Most of the rest of the new revenue will go to important public education needs such as school construction in this first year. We plan to work with the governor and General Assembly to make sure that in future years the alcohol sales tax money goes to fund critical health care and community service needs, including helping people with developmental disabilities and mental health needs as well as prevention, cessation and treatment for drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction, and the training of health care workers.

In these times of both budget crises in critical human service areas and strong anti-tax sentiment, Marylanders can be proud that our leaders were wise enough to raise a responsible revenue source which will both save lives and fund needed programs. We hope that other states will follow our lead.

Vincent DeMarco, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.

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