Cigarette tax hike politics difficult for Senate leaders

JACKSON — Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant’s leadership team, led by Finance Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, has been reluctant to embrace the larger cigarette tax hike supported by the leadership team of House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi. Kirby has consistently argued that a larger increase would result in people leaving the state to purchase cigarettes. Peter Fisher, the vice president for state issues at the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids, disputed some of those claims Tuesday during a visit to the Mississippi Capitol. First of all, Fisher said an increase of 82 cents per pack, as proposed by the House leadership, would keep 26,000 teen-agers from smoking and would result in a decline of 13.9 percent among young smokers. In addition, Fisher said in 2007 Texas increased its cigarette tax by $1 to $1.41 while neighboring Louisiana remained at 36 cents per pack. The result was that Louisiana tax revenue increased by 1.2 percent while revenue in Texas went up a whopping 192 percent. Fisher said that indicated a few Texans crossed the state line to buy cigarettes, but not many. Senate leaders are in a difficult position. They know an increase in the cigarette tax is popular. By the same token, they have thus far argued for keeping any tax hike on the low side. They also know that the House has passed an increase so many times only to see it die in the Senate that if it dies this year the Senate will be blamed.