Md. Drink Tax a Win-Win, Say Supporters

Proponents release new study and poll supporting case

Tuesday, Jan 4, 2011  |  Updated 9:15 PM EDT
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A new study concludes an increase in Maryland's alcohol tax could save lives and money.

The study was conducted by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins on behalf of the Maryland Health Care For All Coalition. The group also released a poll Tuesday that suggests many Marylanders support the tax.

The research results "... make clear that a dime a drink increase in Maryland's alcohol tax is good policy and good politics," said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative and the Health Care For All Coalition. "Maryland voters overwhelmingly support the dime a drink alcohol tax increase because they know that it will save lives and help Maryland's economy."

Alcohol use is responsible for 1,278 deaths and 7,470 violent crimes in Maryland every year, according to the study. The tax increase will save 33 lives and prevent 370 violent acts every year, as well as prevent 13,301 cases of alcohol dependence or abuse, researchers said. A 10 cent increase in the cost of a drink will lead to $215.6 million in new revenue for the state and an additional $225.2 million in cost savings for Maryland's economy because of a projected 4.25 percent decrease in alcohol consumption, resulting in increased productivity to the tune of $131.7 million, more than enough to exceed any potential job losses in the alcohol industry, according to the research.

The tax would cost the average drinker about $10.83 cents per year with heavy drinkers picking up the rest of the tab, researchers said.

And Maryland likes it, according to an OpinionWorks poll released Tuesday.  The statewide voter poll (conducted December 20-28, 2010) of 663 likely voters statewide found 66 percent of them support the proposed alcohol tax increase.

So what's not to like? Plenty, say critics, like a group that includes Maryland's powerful liquor lobbyists. They warn that even a small increase could hurt small business owners and drive consumers across state borders for cheaper alcohol. 

Support in the General Assembly has been mixed in the past, which is one reason the state alcohol tax has not increased in decades.  Lawmakers are expected to take up the issue again in the upcoming session.

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