DC
10/25/2011 05:24 pm ET | Updated Dec 25, 2011

Maryland Alcohol Tax Distribution To Schools: A Political Process?

WASHINGTON -- The government transparency nonprofit group Maryland Reporter is alleging that rotten politics has played a role in how state alcohol tax money set aside for school construction projects is being doled out.

The controversial alcohol tax went into effect in July, raising alcohol taxes from 6 percent to 9 percent. About $47.5 million of the money expected to be taken in was set aside for school construction projects.

In early October, Maryland's Bureau of Public Works announced the school construction projects to be funded with the money. Cabin John Middle School in Bethesda is among the schools receiving funding.

The Maryland Reporter created a map showing where the funds are going -- and it turns out the alcohol tax money is going mainly to districts that supported the tax.

That distribution model was intentional according to State Comptroller and Board of Public Works member Peter Franchot, per the Baltimore Sun's Political Notebook:

Franchot said he was surprised to hear Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's response to his question at the Oct. 19 Board of Public Works meeting about why Baltimore County only requested projects that would benefit schools in the western part of the county.

"When the General Assembly agreed to create an opportunity for one-time funding using the alcohol tax revenues, the (Baltimore County) delegation agreed that those districts that supported the alcohol tax would then be the beneficiary of that $7 million," Kamenetz said at the meeting.

Franchot called Kamenetz's answer "an absolute stunning description of machine politics" and a "rare window" into how Baltimore County operates.

The Baltimore Sun's editorial page finds this not so rare a window into machine politics. In an editorial posted Tuesday afternoon, the Sun posits that even if politics played a role in the distribution of alcohol tax funds, this is not so terribly shocking for a number of reasons, like the relatively small amount of money at stake -- and because legislative wheels must be greased in relatively minor ways, if laws are ever to be passed at all:

Such considerations are the lubrication by which the legislative process turns. Without those sweeteners, the tax increase might not have passed, and then no Baltimore County schools -- home of a tax supporter or not -- would be getting help at all.

The finding that funding for school projects was the lubrication that got Maryland's alcohol tax passed, then, is not really shocking politics. It's politics.