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House Panel Holds Hearing On Alcohol Tax Increase

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Time is running out for a bill to raise the alcohol tax to fund the disabled and schools.

Suzanne Collins reports on a last-ditch lobbying effort.

Edward Willard can’t talk, so he’s using a computer to explain it.  Like Willard, there are 5,000 disabled Marylanders who are on a waiting list hoping to get services. Some of them are desperate for help.

“Many of them have much older caregivers who are really struggling to care for them at home. They may be at risk of becoming homeless. There are very dire situations out there,” said Laura Howell, Chair, Maryland Developmental Disabilities Coalition.

A bill to raise the sales tax on alcohol would filter money to the disabled. It would be $5 million the first year and additional funds for two years afterward.

Kim Curry says she is finally independent in a group home after waiting years on the list.

“[I waited] six or seven years at least because at one time I was living with my brother and his family in Salisbury,” said Curry.

Liquor stores and restaurants say they alone are being saddled with the burden, which will hurt business.

“If we lose sales, we’re going to lose jobs. The people on the border are really going to be impacted by the high tax,” said Chuck Ferrar, Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits.

The current bill calls for a penny increase in the sales tax every year for three years. So by the third year, a bottle of Jack Daniels would cost 60 cents more.

The alcohol tax would also be spent to beef up education funding for Baltimore City and Prince George’s County.

The Senate passed it, but the House must vote by Monday at midnight.

The lobbying is intense. Even if the House votes in favor of the alcohol tax, any amendments or delays could doom the bill at this late hour.

The sales tax increase would raise an estimated $58 million in fiscal year 2013 and $85 million in the third year.

The disabled advocates say in three years, the tax revenue could eliminate the long waiting list for services.

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