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Cigarette Tax Hike Proposed in North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Taxes on a pack of cigarettes would rise to 30 cents under legislation that state House Democrats unveiled late Monday, according to a report in the News & Record of North Carolina.

That would be 10 cents less than what the Senate included in its proposed budget package last month.

House members did not vote on the plan Monday night. Rather, they aired some of the finer points of the bill during a House Finance Committee meeting and adjourned.

After a pair of closed-door caucus meetings earlier in the day, Democrats reported they were struggling to reach a consensus about how much to raise the tobacco tax.

Even after the bill was released, Democrats seemed uncertain whether they would agree to a 30-cent levy.

Democrats hold a slim 63-57 majority in the House, which means few can break ranks without scuttling their party's proposed finance plans.

Republicans essentially have expressed no interest in raising taxes.

The finance package discussed Monday is the second tax measure coming out of the House this month. Last week, representatives voted to tweak sales and income taxes.

In addition to upping taxes on cigarettes, the latest legislation would raise levies on all other tobacco products -- except cigars -- from 2 percent to 6 percent.

Although the bill covers an array of taxes and fees, the question about how high cigarette levies should go is causing the most debate among House Democrats.

Some would like to see the tax raised to 75 cents.

Others, such as Rep. Earl Jones, would rather keep the rate at its current 5-cent level - soon to be the nation's lowest - or eliminate it entirely.

“There are a few of us, not many, who are zeroes,” said Jones, a Democrat from Greensboro.

Jones said he objected to singling out an industry that was legal for a special tax.

“Beyond that, I think the cigarette tax has the potential of harming the industry,” he said.

Jones and Rep. Pricey Harrison, another Greensboro Democrat, said a tax increase would hurt Lorillard Tobacco and cost local jobs. That cigarette manufacturer has its headquarters in Guilford County.

“I've told my Lorillard employees I was going to advocate for as low as cigarette tax as is possible,” Harrison said.

Greensboro's other Democratic representatives -- Maggie Jeffus and Alma Adams -- said they would back raising the cigarette tax to 25 cents or 30 cents.

“I don't think there's going to be much support for anything over that,” Adams said.

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