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Cigarette tax hike rejected by House tax committee

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A proposal to raise Louisiana's cigarette tax was rejected by lawmakers on the House tax committee Tuesday, a vote that appeared likely to end efforts to boost the tax this legislative session.
    
Though a cigarette tax increase enjoys widespread support in statewide polls, strong lobbying efforts against the tax hike, combined with the anti-tax sentiment of the conservative House and opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal for any tax proposal that raises state revenue has squelched support at the state capitol.
    
The House Ways and Means Committee voted 11-7 against the bill by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, which would have raised the current 36-cent per pack tax to 68 cents, the rate charged in neighboring Mississippi.
    
A day earlier, the sponsor of a higher $1.05 per pack tax increase proposal shelved the bill, saying he didn't have enough votes to advance the measure to the House floor.
    
Jackson's proposal would have let voters in a statewide election decide whether to increase the tax and would have dedicated the $129 million raised annually to a list of health care and higher education programs.
    
"The choice I offer you today is to let the people decide," said Jackson, chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, which supported the legislation.
    
Backers of the tobacco tax hike say an increase would reduce smoking and smoking-related illnesses while also generating much-needed money for the state's budget.
    
Louisiana's cigarette tax is among the lowest in the nation. Only Virginia and Missouri have lower tax rates, according to the nonpartisan Federation of Tax Administrators.
    
The tax hike faced opposition from anti-tax groups, tobacco companies and owners of stores that sell cigarettes and that said the increase could shutter stores and force employee layoffs.
    
In an unusual twist, Jackson's tax increase bill also was criticized by the American Cancer Society as too low to decrease smoking rates. Andrew Muhl, representing the cancer society, opposed the 32-cent increase, saying it wouldn't have any health benefits.
    
"We only support amounts that will change behavior, reduce tobacco use and ultimately save lives," Muhl told the committee.
    
Jackson called that testimony "unconscionable," saying her bill pushes toward the American Cancer Society's goal of reducing smoking.
    
Voting for the cigarette tax hike were Reps. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge; Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans; Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond; Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe; Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales; Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa; and Patrick Williams, D-Shreveport.
    
Voting against were Reps. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, committee chairman; Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia; Richard Burford, R-Stonewall; Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; Mickey Guillory, D-Eunice; Chris Hazel, R-Pineville; Robert Johnson, D-Marksville; Julie Stokes, R-Metairie; Major Thibaut, D-New Roads; Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City; and Lenar Whitney, R-Houma.
    
___
    
Online:
    
House Bill 537 can be found at www.legis.la.gov

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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