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Governor opposes proposed cigarette tax increase

By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
April 27, 2004
JACKSON Gov. Haley Barbour vowed Monday he will, if necessary, veto a last-minute proposal from state House leaders that would raise the state tax on cigarettes 9 cents a pack.
House leaders say increasing the tax from 18 cents a pack to 27 cents a pack would raise $21.9 million a year to fund opening and operating mental health crisis centers across the state.
Lawmakers, who are in their final two weeks of the four-month 2004 Legislature, face a Saturday deadline to negotiate details on the state's more than $10 billion annual budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
With the state facing a $700 million shortfall this year, legislative leaders also have been trimming state agency budgets to save money. Lawmakers are not considering sales or income tax increases.
House leaders, though, voted early this year to fund public education by approving $17.6 million in fee increases. And House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said last week he backs the tobacco tax increase.
The tax proposal would require House and Senate members to suspend legislative deadlines to consider the issue. A proposal to suspend deadlines awaits a vote in the House Rules Committee.
McCoy said he and other lawmakers can't worry about what the governor says about the tobacco tax. McCoy said any action the House takes is "irrespective of … what the governor might do."
Some House members, though, said they oppose the tobacco tax.
Barbour, a Republican, said raising taxes is not the way to control spending and solve the state's financial problems.