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North Carolina Tobacco Tax Debate Continues

RALEIGH, N.C. -- State House lawmakers late Wednesday were hashing out details of a proposed $17.1 billion spending plan that, among other things, would increase the state’s cigarette tax by 25 cents per pack, the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times reported.

The news comes after a proposal earlier this weekthat would have boosted the tax per pack to 30 cents.

The budget proposal also boosts the excise tax on all other tobacco products, except cigars, from 2 percent to 6 percent of the cost. The move would generate $142 million that budget writers want to spend on other state government programs, such as education and health and human services.

At 5 cents per pack, North Carolina has the lowest cigarette tax in the country.

Increasing the tobacco tax has been the doorstop of this year's budget debate in the state House. This left House leaders guessing whether there were enough votes to pass a budget if it included a cigarette tax increase.

Democrats hold a 63-to-57 majority. Most Republicans indicated they would oppose the House budget because of the estimated $733 million in tax increases, the newspaper reported.

Rep. Trudi Walend, R-Transylvania, said she was opposed to the cigarette tax increase because it would hurt small convenience stores in her district that border South Carolina. Many of these stores depend on South Carolina smokers for business.

"Right now, many North Carolinians go to South Carolina to buy gas," Walend said. "Now they’re going to go down there to buy cigarettes, too."

But Democrats were divided. Some legislators in tobacco-dependent counties threatened to vote against the budget if the tobacco tax increase was more than 25 cents per pack. Others wanted to raise the tax to as high as 75 cents per pack.

Reps. Susan Fisher and Bruce Goforth of Buncombe County were temporarily appointed by House leaders to the House Finance Committee to ensure the tobacco tax increase was passed.

"I was disappointed that we had to go with the compromise of 25 cents," Fisher said. "But I would vote for an increase at every opportunity."
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