Senate Has A Tobacco Tax Plan, Too

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- Throughout the special session, we've heard house democrats push a cigarette tax to cover Medicaid's shortfall. It turns out, the Senate has its own tobacco tax plan. But, its proceeds have nothing to do with Mississippi's Medicaid crisis. Instead of concentrating on the welfare of low income Mississippians, the Senate's tobacco tax would create income tax credits, and bolster a wellness campaign.

With the house and senate both discussing tobacco tax options, smokers are quickly realizing a pack of cigarettes purchased in Mississippi may cost more. And the owner of Smokey's Tobacco Shop in Gulfport isn't very happy about it. "These problems are everybody's problems, not just the smokers' problems," he said.

The latest tobacco tax talk comes from Billy Hewes. The number two man in the senate now says a new cigarette tax is in Mississippi's future. "I think it's inevitable that it will, given where we are relative to other states," Sen. Hewes said.

Mississippi's tobacco tax is currently the third lowest in the nation. That's why House democrats are trying to raise tobacco taxes, and use that revenue to end Medicaid's shortfall.

However, Hewes contends that how the democrats spend their cigarette tax revenue is unnecessary. "In the Senate we don't feel like we need to be using it for Medicaid monies when there's a readily available source and a group that's willing to pay that particular amount," he said.

The source is a hospital tax, and the group willing to pay it is the Mississippi Hospital Association. That's why Hewes says the Senate republicans' tobacco tax makes more sense. The plan they came up with charges 50 cents more for a pack of cigarettes. It uses part of that money for a $150 per person income tax credit. And it uses the rest of the money to help schools hire more nurses. "Let's move on that and get out of there and do something good on a lot of levels instead of having it languish," the senator said.

However, the owner of Smokey's doesn't see how adding another tax to his customers will benefit anybody. "I think it's unfair and unjust to tax one consumer group to pay for everything," Williams said.