tobacco tax by qti12007

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									tobacco tax -

2/9/04 -- REVISED to clarify that most of the bills apply only to cigarettes, not to all
tobacco products

Erica De Pompeo
804.814.0853
agent_e22@yahoo.com
Feb. 6, 2004

Note: Story quotes Reese (Fairfax, Loudoun), Potts (Fauquier, Loudoun, Clarke),
Barlow (Smithfield, Williamsburg), Hamilton (Williamsburg) and Van Yahres
(Charlottesville). At end of story is a list of how all members of the House Finance
Committee voted on proposals to raise the cigarette tax.


5 legislators want to raise cigarette taxes; House panel doesn't

By Erica L. De Pompeo
Capital News Service

        RICHMOND -- Smoking is associated with both death and taxes. Some

legislators are hoping that an increase in the latter will lead to a decrease in the former.

        Five lawmakers, Republicans as well as Democrats, gathered last week to offer

proposals for increasing Virginia's cigarette tax, which -- at 2.5 cents per pack -- is the

lowest in the country.

        The legislators presented plans that would raise the tax at least to 25 cents a pack

and as high as $1. They varied on how the resulting revenues would be spent. But the

legislators agreed on one thing: Preventing underage smoking was a top concern.

        "I do not believe for a moment that we will ban cigarettes, but I believe we need

to begin pricing it out of the league of young people," said Del. Gary A. Reese, R-Oak

Hill.
       Reese was joined at a news conference by three other House members and Sen. H.

Russell Potts, Jr., R-Winchester, in calling for higher taxes on cigarettes. They face an

uphill fight in Virginia, where tobacco has deep roots and many legislators oppose taxes

increases.

       Indeed, two days after the press conference, the House Finance Committee voted

overwhelmingly to kill all of the House bills that sought to raise the cigarette tax.

       However, Potts' plan is still alive, and the bills' sponsors are hopeful that the

General Assembly will include their ideas as they craft a state budget.

       "We're going to fight this good fight, and if we don't win this year, we'll be back

next year," Potts said.

       Proponents of higher cigarette taxes say the public is on their side.

       According to a recent poll of 525 registered Virginia voters, 71 percent support an

increase in the cigarette tax of at least 75 cents per pack. Almost as many -- 68 percent --

back a $1 increase.

       The results of the survey, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, were

announced at the press conference by doctors from such organizations as the Campaign

for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Lung Association of Virginia. The poll was

conducted Jan. 20-22 and has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

       "This survey confirms that this is not a partisan issue, but an issue of common

sense," said Larry Harris of Mason-Dixon, an independent polling firm that has worked

for CNN and other news organizations.
       Dr. Walter Lawrence, a volunteer with the American Cancer Society, said, "The

tobacco tax is a proven strategy to protect thousands of Virginia kids from tobacco

addiction while, at the same time, helping the state address budget concerns."

5 plans for taxing cigarettes

       Reese has introduced two bills. One would increase the state tax, which has not

changed since 1966, to 50 cents per pack, with the money going to education. Reese's

other bill would authorize any county in Virginia to tack on a local tax of up to 50 cents

per pack; the counties would use the money to lower property taxes.

       Like Reese, Del. Phillip A. Hamilton, R-Newport News, is sponsoring a bill to set

the state tax for cigarettes and other tobacco products at 50 cents per pack or package and

5 cents per cigar. He would limit the local tax to 25 cents per pack or package and 3 cents

per cigar.

       Hamilton's bill would earmark the revenues for Medicare and health care needs,

which he said are at "the core of state government."

       Del. William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield, is sponsoring a bill that would allow all

counties in the state to impose a cigarette tax of up to 50 cents.

       Currently, only two Virginia counties -- Arlington and Fairfax -- have the

authority to impose a cigarette tax, Barlow noted. He said all counties, cities and towns

should have that right.

       Barlow's measure would give local governing bodies a source of revenue to

reduce real estate taxes on homes and businesses. "It should be a no-brainer," he said. "Do

we want to tax cigarettes, or do we want to tax homes?"
       Del. Mitchell Van Yahres, D-Charlottesville, a former smoker, wants to raise the

state cigarette tax to 60 cents per pack. Under his plan, half of the tax revenue would go

to Medicaid; the other half would go to cities and counties according to their number of

school-age children.

       Sen. Potts would impose the biggest tax increase on cigarettes. He would raise the

state tax to $1 per pack, which is in line with the taxes imposed by Washington, D.C., and

Maryland.

       "Let's face it," Potts said. "Smoking kills people; it causes cancer."

       He would use the cigarette tax revenues to increase salaries of Virginia's public-

school teachers, deputy sheriffs and state police officers. Salaries for those public

employees rank below the national average, Potts said, adding that many Virginia state

police officers are on food stamps.

       Potts also would use the tobacco tax money to fund Medicaid and mental health

services.

       His bill is pending before the Senate Finance Committee.

       [Editor's note - how members of the House Finance Committee voted. You

might want to highlight your legislators.]

       The House Finance Committee has 22 members, and 19 of them consistently

voted against raising the state tax on cigarettes. They are: Parrish, Purkey, Orrock, Drake,

Louderback, Ware, R.L., Welch, Nixon, Byron, Lingamfelter, Cole, O'Bannon, Janis,

Hugo, Johnson, Melvin, Hall, Shannon and Lewis.

       The three committee members who voted for legislation to increase the tax were:

Van Yahres, Hull and Watts.
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