First the smoking ban thing, now this…
A little bird just called to tell me that the Senate Finance Committee just voted, 14-11, to increase the state cigarette tax by 50 per pack, taking us to 57 cents (yes, currently it is only 7 cents, the lowest in the nation).
The vote followed three hours of debate, but the only person who actually seemed to be against the increase itself was Greg Ryberg. So what did they argue about all that time? Well, they argued about what lawmakers tend to really care about — how to spend the money. Of the $158 million the increase will raise per year, $5 million will go to smoking cessation efforts, the rest to Medicaid (which means getting a federal match). The spending decision was on a vote of 12-11.
Two important things to add:
- This is indexed to inflation (which the old tax wasn’t), so as cigarettes go up in price, so will the tax.
- The tax will also apply to those little "cigars," which are really just brown cigarettes. So no more loophole there.
If this gets full Senate approval, it will have to be reconciled with the 35-cent hike the House passed last year. The House plan was to spend the money on eliminating the sales tax on groceries, but that idea is now moot, since that happened last year anyway, without the cigarette tax increase.
You know, between this and the S.C. Supreme Court’s decision yesterday that it’s actually OK for local governments to respond to their citizens and pass smoking bans, it’s almost as though South Carolina leadership has suddenly made a consensus decision to behave in a rational manner toward tobacco. Two branches of gummint, that is — we have yet to hear from our governor. But let’s just pretend that first the full Senate, then the governor, will act like a sensible people about the health of South Carolinians, too. I’m not going to have my day ruined by thinking otherwise (even if Sen. Ryberg is a reliable indicator of the governor’s thinking, more often than not).
And no, this is not an elaborate April Fool’s Day gag. This good stuff is really happening.