Governor wants more tobacco taxes, some question motive

JACKSON — Haley Barbour, who has spent much of his tenure as governor blocking efforts to increase Mississippi’s cigarette tax, is expected to sign the 50-cent-per-pack increase approved last week by the Legislature.

But now, surprise, surprise, the Republican governor says that is not enough. He wants additional taxes on tobacco products.

Barbour has been advocating this session an additional tax on the companies that did not participate in the settlement of a lawsuit the state filed against some tobacco companies in the 1990s. These smaller companies can sell cigarettes cheaper, Barbour says, because they are not making annual payments to the state as part of the lawsuit settlement.

He also wants smokeless tobacco to be taxed by weight instead of a percentage of its price.

In both instances, Barbour says it is a matter of tax fairness. And both proposals will provided additional revenue to the state.

In both cases, Barbour has points. As a matter of fact, in the past, the House Democratic leadership has tried to increase the tax on the smaller, non-participating cigarette companies and that effort was blocked by Barbour’s Republican allies in the Legislature.

Now Barbour is for it, but the House Democratic leadership is against it.

It doesn’t help Barbour’s cause that the big tobacco companies favor both of his proposals and that they would be helped financially if the governor’s proposals passed.

It is not forgotten that Barbour for years lobbied for big tobacco companies and that the Washington, D.C., lobbying firms he still receives payments from continues to lobby for big tobacco.

In essence, some legislators believe the governor is for the additional taxes only to help big tobacco companies.

But another alternative may be that Barbour has come to the conclusion the additional tobacco taxes are good public policy whether big tobacco is for them or not.