House rejects proposed Senate changes to cigarette tax hike

Published: Jun. 9, 2015 at 4:25 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2015 at 8:36 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Changes to the proposed cigarette tax hike went up in smoke Tuesday morning.

The House voted to reject the Senate's idea to raise the tax on cigarettes 72 cents to $1.08 per pack.

"If we go too high on this initially, we're going to kill the market," said Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley.

"Trying to collect all of our taxes from poor people is not good tax policy," said Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe.

Because most House members thought the raise was too high, HB 119 is now headed to a special conference committee, where it will be finalized in efforts to get it to Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk.

The Senate's changes would have upped next year's revenue on the bill from $68 million to $188 million.

State Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, was the most outspoken lawmaker against the tax hike.

Supporters say that would be a big help to close the state deficit and discourage people from smoking.

"If we don't do this, then we're going to have to go back and find another way that we can come up with that money," said Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport.

State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, authored the bill, which passed the House last month as a 32-cent tax hike to raise $68 million.

Louisiana's current cigarette tax of 36-cents a pack is the country's second lowest.

"We all know the arguments about tobacco. You know where I stand. You know the numbers and everything," said Rep. Ritchie.

Rep. Ritchie, a smoker for 50 years, supported the changes. He said they will be crucial to funding healthcare, but Rep. Harris called them "unfair tax policy."

"If you want to protect Louisiana workers and Louisiana wholesalers, then you need to reject these amendments," said Rep. Harris.

Rep. Ritchie countered saying other states, like Texas, have raised their cigarette tax even higher than what's proposed this year.

Regardless, the Senate changes were rejected overwhelmingly in an 81-15 vote.

A special committee of three members of the House and three members of the Senate will now meet behind closed doors to hash out a tax hike both sides can agree on before it goes to Gov. Jindal to be signed into law.

The move is all part of the even bigger picture, as lawmakers have just three days left to finalize a budget before the session ends Thursday.

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