The Idaho Business Review and IdahoReporter.com are reporting that Representative Dennis Lake (R-Blackfoot) is working with a coalition headed by the American Cancer Society to raise Idaho’s tobacco tax next year.
The state currently charges a 57 cent tax on a pack of cigarettes, which is the one of the lowest tax rates in the country. Rep. Lake may sponsor a proposal that would tack on an additional $1.25 to Idaho’s tobacco tax, bringing it up to $1.82.
Rep. Lake is chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, which is where tax bills begin the process. Here’s what the Idaho Business Review is reporting:
Lake’s support this year wasn’t enough to even get a plan formally introduced into his committee. After this year’s legislative session ended, Lake said that the chances for increasing the tax would go up if the fortunes of the state budget went down, but that hasn’t been the case.
“Without needing the revenue, it makes it that much more difficult to pass,” Lake said. Supporters estimate the $1.25 per pack increase could raise $50 million for the state as well as encourage people to quit or not pick up the habit. “We have a substantial group of people (in the Legislature) that are ‘no tax increase’ and they perceive it as being a tax increase.”
Tobacco taxes were mentioned briefly at last week’s Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference when Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill (R-Rexburg) said there won’t be an attempt to raise the so-called sin taxes (beer, wine and tobacco). But, House Speaker Lawerence Denney (R-Midvale) disagreed saying a tobacco tax increase proposal will probably come up, though he didn’t want to bet on its outcome.
IdahoReporter.com says the use of cigarettes and other forms of tobacco cost Idaho’s Medicaid program at least $83 million each year and cost taxpayers as much as $319 million in other health-related costs annually.
How likely is it that tax hike advocates get the plan through both chambers of the Statehouse and onto the governor’s desk in 2012, which is an election year? “It’s a difficult challenge,” Lake warned, but noted that the coalition supporting the plan has some clout with legislators. “They also vote and have some political muscle.”
Interest groups on both sides of the tobacco tax issue will surely spend a significant amount of money lobbying lawmakers in the direction of their cause. According to a database at the Secretary of State’s website, the American Cancer Society spent $15,516 on lobbying efforts during the 2011 session. Altria Client Services Inc., which is the parent company of tobacco-giant Philip Morris spent $110,467 to lobby lawmakers in 2011.
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