UPDATED: Smoke 'em if you got 'em (on the cheap, too)

Tommorow the House is set to vote on “the cigarette tax” (again).

Remember that last year, for the first time in more than a decade, the House passed a plan and sent it to the Senate.

The House plan was (roughly) 30 cents a pack increase with money going to reduce the tax on groceries. Since that time, the grocery tax has gone away (Property Tax Relief Act). So now what?

The Senate plan(passed just last week) raises it by 50 cents with money going to Medicaid.

So the question is: what will our elected officials do this year?

I expect some version will pass again in the House and (as with most bills) a compromise will be reached in Conference Committee but there’ll be a battle over (a) increasing the tax period (b) how much and (c) where the money will go.

As a fiscal conservative, my vote to approve the tax last year probably surprised a few folks. I felt it was the right thing to do then and I still feel it’s the right thing to do now.

Some things I will continue to keep in mind during upcoming votes:

* Our tax is the lowest in the nation (7 cents)
* Our tax hasn’t been increased since I was 7 years old
* Our border states tax cigarettes at 35 cents (NC) and 37 cents (GA)
* For every 10% increase in price, data shows a 7% decrease in teen smoking and 3% decrease overall
* The governor will veto any increase that is not revenue neutral
* George Glassmeyer (perhaps one of my most staunch pro-cigarette tax increase voters since Day One when I knocked on his door four years ago)

If you have an opinion, please share it.

UPDATE (11:30 a.m., Wednesday): The bill was “24 hour ruled” today and will appear on the calendar again in the morning for debate.

UPDATE (9:28 a.m., Thursday): Hmm…..here’s what The State wrote in the Metro section today. Funny thing is….the UPDATE above is accurate. Maybe The State is foreshadowing what a “plan” may be today??

CIGARETTE TAX

House leaders are working on a cigarette tax plan that would spend all the revenue raised on tax cuts for small businesses to buy health insurance. The House has sent the bill to the Ways and Means Committee (we did? No we didn’t) to work out the details, but House Speaker Bobby Harrell said he opposes using the money for Medicaid. Harrell said any program funded — including smoking cessation — should be a tax credit, and he favored allowing all businesses to apply for the tax credits regardless of how much the employee earns. A Senate bill limited the health insurance premium assistance to those earning less than twice the rate of poverty, or about $21,000.
House leaders also are uncertain on the size of the tax increase. The Senate approved a 50-cent-per-pack increase. Last year, the House approved a 30-cent-per-pack increase.

UPDATE (12:00 Thursday): No action taken today on the “cigarette tax”. What happened was alot of procedural moves in order to avoid debate today. First, there was a motion to adjourn for the day (failed 57-61). About 30 minutes later, the bill was up for debate when a motion was made to adjourn debate (until Tuesday supposedly). That motion ultimately passed 63-57. What does this mean? Supposedly we’ll take the bill back up Tuesday. Stay tuned…

UPDATED (2:45 pm Tuesday, May 20th): No action taken today. Debate adjourned tomorrow. I do believe tomorrow we may see passage. 30 cents? 50 cents? Not sure until the votes are counted.