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Going Up?

BOSTON -- The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved a $1 per pack increase to the state cigarette tax, easily surpassing the two-thirds mark needed to override a promised veto by Acting Governor Jane Swift and positioning Massachusetts to install the highest tax on tobacco products in the nation.

The tobacco tax increase passed without debate by a vote of 125-29. The measure would place the cigarette tax at $1.76 a pack in Massachusetts -- well above New York's $1.50-a-pack tax, now the nation's highest, the Boston Globe reported.

House leaders said the bill could be scaled back today, with a final version adding only 50 or 75 cents to the current 76-cent state levy.

House assistant minority leader Bradley H. Jones Jr. (D-North Reading) predicted the new tax would help balance New Hampshire's budget by driving Massachusetts smokers across the state line to buy cheaper cigarettes. He and other Republicans maintain that the state doesn't need new taxes to cope with a $2 billion budget gap in the fiscal year that begins July 1, the report said.

"This crisis, if you want to call it that, is able to be solved through a combination of cuts, existing revenues and reserve funds, and some new revenues," Jones said.