Effort to resurrect higher cigarette tax short-lived

By By Jim Beam / American Press

BATON ROUGE — An effort to resurrect a

higher state cigarette tax was short-lived Tuesday when the House Ways

and Means Committee

voted 11-7 to kill a 32-cent-per-pack increase.

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, wanted to raise the current 36-cent-per-pack tax by 32 cents. That would have created a 68-cent

tax, equal to the cigarette tax in Mississippi.

Members of the committee a day earlier never had a chance to vote on any of four proposed increases. Rep. Harold Ritchie,

D-Bogalusa, was first up, but voluntarily deferred his measure, which would have increased the tax from 36 cents a pack to

$1.41. He said the votes weren’t there. Texas has a $1.41 cigarette tax.

The Tuesday vote on Jackson’s bill definitely put the cigarette tax issue to rest for this legislative session.

Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, had proposed a 60-cent-per-pack tax but pulled it back when he learned the $57 million in

annual revenues wouldn’t be sufficient to replace the state’s corporate franchise tax.

Jackson deferred two of her bills Monday, but brought one back for consideration Tuesday. It was a constitutional amendment

that would have been submitted to the state’s voters for final approval.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he would

veto any tax increases that aren’t revenue neutral, but he has no veto

power over constitutional

amendments. They require two-thirds votes for passage in both

houses and go directly to the voters.

“Our choice today is to let the people decide,” Jackson said. “Give the people of Louisiana a true choice.”

Andrew Muhl, government relations director for the American Cancer Society of Louisiana, spoke for Ritchie’s bill Monday,

but was against Jackson’s proposal. He said the 32-cent increase wasn’t high enough to deter young people from smoking or

to encourage smokers to quit.

Spokesmen for convenience stores and

tobacco interests also spoke briefly against the proposed increase. One

said he was testifying

on behalf of his customers.

Jackson’s tax would have raised $129 million annually. She amended the legislation to create the Higher Education Revitalization

Fund in the state treasury to distribute the revenues.

The bill called for 40 percent of the revenues to be deposited in the Louisiana Medical Assistance Trust Fund to be used solely

for the state’s Medicaid health care program for the poor.

Ten percent would have gone to retire unfunded debt owed by the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System and the Teachers

Retirement System of Louisiana.

Twenty percent would have been used by the LSU Board of Supervisors to fund its health science centers. An additional 4.5

percent would have been used by LSU for health care research. Southern University would have received 4.5 percent for its


The University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors would have received 4.5 percent for the school of pharmacy at the University

of Louisiana at Monroe.

Nursing programs would have benefited,

and each would have received 1.5 percent of the revenues. They included

programs at

Grambling, LSU-Alexandria, LSU-New Orleans, McNeese State

University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University,

Southeastern State University, University of Louisiana at

Lafayette, ULM, Southern University, New Orleans School of Dentistry

and Southern-Shreveport for its dental hygiene program.