EDITED BY LLOYD
Cigarette tax talks revived, but still no agreement
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – House and Senate leaders, who last week called off negotiations on increasing the state’s cigarette tax after reaching an impasse, began to work on the issue anew Monday.
But the two sides still could not agree on how much to increase the 18-cent-per-pack tax, the third lowest in the nation.
They continued to work late Monday night on the issue.
A cigarette tax increase proposal died last week when it was caught by a legislative deadline. The House negotiators had proposed an 80-cent tax, while the Senate offered 60 cents.
But on Monday, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, sent a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, saying he was willing to increase the Senate proposal an additional 4 cents to the contiguous state average of 64 cents per pack.
Kirby then introduced a resolution to suspend the rules to revive the cigarette tax talks. The resolution needed a two-thirds vote of each chamber to pass. It passed with minimal opposition.
Kirby said he was spurred in part to suspend the rules because the cigarette tax revenue is desperately needed to replenish a fund that provides local governments money to hold down the cost of car tags. The fund is dwindling and some counties, he said, already have started increasing car tag costs.
amp”This may be our last opportunity to reach a resolution that will prevent near doubling of car tags,amp” he said. amp”I feel this agreement can accomplish two important issues, reducing smoking and generating badly needed revenue.amp”
While the Senate, through Kirby, has gone up 4 cents, the House has yet to come down from last week’s offer of 80 cents per pack.
amp”It seems simple to say 64 cents vs. 80 cents, but between those two you are talking about millions of dollars and certainly thousands of people not smoking,amp” Watson said. amp”…We have to find that magic number.amp”
Budget leaders say they need the revenue from an increased cigarette tax and from a tax on hospitals to offset a dramatic slowdown in state tax collections caused by the economic slowdown.
Late Monday, leaders also had not agreed how much to tax hospitals or how.
Legislators were hoping to have the two tax issues resolved by Tuesday when they planned to leave for several weeks before returning to complete work on a budget. But it appears at this point that Wednesday will be the earliest they can leave and that is looking less likely.