Lawmakers Weigh-In On Proposed Cigarette Tax Increase

By Krystal Allan - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -  The debate over a cigarette tax increase was at the heart of the Medicaid funding stalemate that dragged on for months. Now, the tax increase Governor Barbour opposed, is being recommended by a commission he appointed; something some lawmakers say they've been recommending all along.

"It's kind of disappointing that we asked for this all the time and no one listened to us in the state House of Representatives. It is only after you get a tax commission of your choice that you would come back and say, oh this is different now. What's the difference when we asked for it," says Democrat Frances Fredericks, District 119.

The commission suggested raising the cigarette tax from 18 cents to 50 cents a pack.  As of January 1, 2008, only two other states, Missouri and South Carolina, had cigarette taxes lower than 20 cents per pack, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.

The commission's recommendation was somewhat expected, according to Republican Senator Billy Hewes.

"That recommendation does not come as a big surprise.  It's been talked about throughout the last session and the course of the special session," says Senator Hewes.

But, Hewes says the increase talked about among some lawmakers was not intended as a solution for Medicaid. He says the senate had long talked about using the money to fund an income tax cut and wellness programs, including more school nurses. The commission did include a proposal to give back more money on income taxes.

But, among the suggestions, there's one suggestion Fredericks says she would like to see included in the commission's final report, a change to Mississippi's grocery tax.  One that is the highest in the nation.

"I think it should have been considered. Those who are struggling who have to pay taxes on groceries are crying all the time about it, and I think that's something that should be discussed," says Fredericks.

The commission's final report is expected to be released by the end of the month.