House ready to make offer on cigarette tax increase

n The lead negotiator gave no specifics on his planned proposal to the Senate.
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, the lead House negotiator on legislation to increase the state’s cigarette tax, plans to make his Senate counterparts an offer they “will be inclined to accept.”
The six House and Senate negotiators met Friday to discuss raising the state’s cigarette tax. The House wants an 82-cent-per-pack increase to $1; the Senate has approved a 31-cent increase to 49 cents per pack.
While no compromise was offered Friday, Watson did commit to making an offer.
He said he would need until Wednesday to put his offer together.
“I think you will be inclined to accept it,” Watson told the three Senate counterparts.
Besides raising the cigarette tax 31 cents in its legislation, the Senate also dedicates the new revenue to supplementing a fund designed to help local governments hold down the costs of car tags.
Part of county and city governments’ tax revenue comes from a tax on car tags. In 1994, the state increased the sales tax on cars with that money diverted to a fund that reimburses local governments for holding down the costs of the car tags.
But because of the economic slowdown, vehicles are not selling and the fund to hold down the cost of car tags in running low.
Dean Kirby R-Pearl, the lead Senate negotiator, said he believes any additional revenue from increasing the cigarette tax should be used to replenish that fund.
“The Senate feels that if a tax is increased the money should be given back to the people,” Kirby said. “There is no better way to do that than the car tag reduction fund.”
Watson said his proposal would deal with the cigarette tax increase and a “long-term” fix for the car tag fund woes.
But Watson seemed adamant that he did not want to go too far below the House position of increasing the cigarette tax 82 cents per pack. He pointed out information compiled by the federal Center for Disease Control indicates the health care costs on a pack of cigarettes is more than $10 and that studies indicate increasing the tax on cigarettes reduces teen smoking.
Watson said he believes any increase should be substantial.
Kirby and the Senate negotiators have not made an offer, but he has said he is reluctant to go much beyond the original Senate position of an increase of 31 cents per pack.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison