More cigarette tax bills fail

A second bid in two days to increase the state tobacco tax struck out with legislators Tuesday at the State Capitol.

House Bill 537 called for a 32-cent tax hike on a pack of cigarettes and drew opposition from an unusual corner.

The American Cancer Society of Louisiana joined tobacco companies and convenience store owners in asking the House Committee on Ways and Means to reject the proposed constitutional amendment.

“Our job is to reduce lung cancer incidents and help save lives, and a 32-cent increase will not do that,” said Andrew Muhl, government relations director for the American Cancer Society of Louisiana.

The committee rejected the proposal, with seven legislators voting in favor of it and 11 voting against it.

A day earlier, state Rep. Harold Ritchie went before the committee with his legislation to increase the per-pack cigarette tax by $1.05. The current tax is 36 cents on a pack of cigarettes.

Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, presented his legislation and then pulled it before the committee could vote. He said afterward that he had doubts about getting the bill to the Louisiana House floor.

Before the session began, Gov. Bobby Jindal pitched a tobacco tax increase as a way to eliminate the state’s personal income and corporate taxes. Jindal proposed nearly tripling the state cigarette tax as a way to help replace $3 billion in income tax revenue.

The governor later changed course by shelving his tax package and asking legislators to send him their own plan for eliminating state income taxes. Legislators rejected his directive, and the governor vowed to veto any tobacco tax increase not used to offset other tax reductions.

Amid the turmoil, state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, went before legislators Tuesday with the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus’ approach to increasing the state tobacco tax.

HB537 would put Louisiana’s cigarette tax on par with Mississippi by creating a 68-cent tax. Taxes on cigars, smoking tobacco and smokeless tobacco also would increase.

Jackson told legislators that HB537 would generate at least $64 million for medical care and for higher education institutions that train health care professionals.

“It addresses all our budgetary issues,” she told the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Unlike other proposals, HB537 is a constitutional amendment that would require the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature this session and a majority of voters.

Jackson warned legislators she did not have unanimous support for her proposal.

Holding a stack of cards filed in opposition to the bill, committee Chairman Joel Robideaux started reading off names. “I’ve got a few to read if anyone wants to run to the restroom,” advised Robideaux, R-Lafayette.

With Jackson’s proposal likely dead, only one cigarette tax increase bill still is pending with the House committee.

State Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, filed legislation to increase the cigarette tax to 60 cents a pack. He wants to use the revenue generated to eliminate the state corporate franchise tax.

Talbot said Tuesday that he needs to determine how high the tax would need to rise in order to replace the franchise tax revenue. “We haven’t given up yet. We’re just trying to make the numbers work,” he said.

Voting FOR the 32 cent cigarette tax increase: State Reps. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville, Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, and Patrick Williams, D-Shreveport.

Voting AGAINST the 32 cent cigarette tax increase: State Reps. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, Richie Burford, R-Stonewall, Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, Mickey Guillory, D-Eunice, Chris Hazel, R-Pineville, Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, and Lenar Whitney, R-Houma.