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About Face

LANSING, Mich. -- State representatives who didn't support increasing the tax on cigarettes by 25 cents are now considering an even larger increase.

As state lawmakers look to resolve a budget deficit, they will consider either $150 million in budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year or a 30-cent cigarette tax increase.

Although a number of House Republicans signed a pledge to oppose any tax increase, somesay they don't consider a cigarette tax increase a tax hike, the Associated Press reported.

"I don't think the cigarette tax is a tax increase. It's a smoking cessation plan," said Rep. Stephen Ehardt, (R-Lexington).

Ephardt and fellow GOP Rep. Wayne Kuipers said they would consider the tax increase after lawmakers make an effort to reduce state spending. If the Legislature approves a 30-cent cigarette tax increase by July 1, it would generate about $50 million in revenue for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, and another $192 million in 2002-2003, the report said.

Last month, the Republican-controlled Senate rejected a bill that would have increased the cigarette tax from 75 cents to $1.

Republicans, who have a 58-51 majority in the House, will have to come up with enough votes to pass the tax increase because the Democrats aren't expected to support it. Rep. A.T. Frank, (D-Saginaw) the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said he would advocate against it.

"My fear is that the cigarette tax is not going to solve the budget issue in this state, and we could be postponing the reality that we'll have to face in '04," Frank said.