Cigarette Tax Looks Likely, Lawmakers Say

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - House lawmakers are likely including a boost in Kentucky's cigarette tax as part of a plan to raise nearly $800 million over two years to help the state's droopy finances, Speaker Jody Richards said.

Richards, who met behind closed doors with other House lawmakers at the Capitol Sunday, said he intends to seek support from Gov. Steve Beshear for raising the state's tax on cigarettes. The move would help steer state government away from making drastic funding cuts to education and public services, Richards, D-Bowling Green, said.

"I'm struck by the difficulty that we're having putting this budget together," Richards said during a break in the private budget meeting. "It's just real tough, it's way underfunded. We must have more revenue."

Beshear has proposed an $18.5 billion two-year spending plan that includes 12 percent cuts to public universities and numerous state agencies. Soaring expenses in areas such as Medicaid - which provides health insurance coverage for more than 722,000 low-income and disabled Kentuckians - were behind proposed cuts to other government expenses, Beshear said.

Economic forecasters have predicted sagging revenues for Kentucky state government, to the sum of nearly $900 million over the next two years.

Beshear, who took office in December, has said he's reluctant to raise any taxes and views them as a last resort option. Instead, Beshear has supported a plan to amend Kentucky's constitution to legalize casino gambling. Casinos could generate $600 million per year in new revenue, Beshear has said.

But, the governor's proposal has been a tough sell in the legislature, and Beshear said last week he was working with Democratic House leaders to build support for the idea. Richards and Beshear said last week they did not have the 60 out of 100 votes in the House needed to push it on to the Senate, where it has an uncertain future.

Beshear spokeswoman Vicki Glass said Sunday the governor, "has not seen the committee's revenue package, but as this process continues, he looks forward to working with the House to move the budget along."

At the Capitol Annex, the building across from the Capitol that houses state lawmakers' offices and meeting rooms, House lawmakers met on the budget throughout the day. Members of six budget subcommittees sifted through the proposed budget.

House Appropriations and Revenue Committee chairman Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, said lawmakers were looking to find new money to fund pay raises for public school teachers and offset the funding cuts Beshear proposed for state universities.

"The budget at this point is unacceptable and it would definitely cause the state to lose ground," Moberly said.

Richards and Moberly said they were planning to bring a revenue proposal to other House Democrats later in the week that would generate $400 million in new revenue in each of the next two fiscal years. They declined to elaborate on specific details.

Moberly said the plan did not consider any possible revenue from casinos.

"If it looked like the gambling amendment was going to pass the House, we could do a surplus spending plan," Moberly said.

Richards said he would ask Beshear for his support on raising the cigarette tax to make it an easier sell both in the Democrat-led House and in the Republican-controlled Senate.

A proposal before the House by Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, would raise the cigarette tax - currently 30 cents per pack - up to $1 per pack. That would raise about $205 million in additional tax revenue, the Legislative Research Commission has estimated. Kentucky's current tax is among the lowest in the nation.

Richards said he thought the House could pass "a reasonable increase" that would fall below 70 cents a pack.

"I'm going to do everything I can to encourage him (Beshear) to support this in an overt way so we can pass this not only in the House but in the Senate," Richards said. "Folks, these are needed. It's not that we're just out here going through some sort of exercise."
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The legislation is House Bill 406.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by J Location: KY on Mar 5, 2008 at 03:33 PM
    AMEN, Steve from Lexington, AMEN!!! and on a side note, "Hey Johnathan" comments were very rude and uncalled for. This is an opinion/comments section and just because you don't agree with Johnathan from Lexington, doesn't mean you have to be insulting and cruel. All it does is show your true caliber....
  • by Smoker Location: Wilmore on Mar 5, 2008 at 03:27 PM
    Well here we go!!!! You want to tax smokers but when it comes to everyones alcohol it stays the same, I wonder why that is????? You know that the governor and all them High Up people drink the Wine and Champane but you dont see them raising tax on what they do--now do ya???? I have smoked for a long time and yes its a bad habit and its hard to break but what people dont realize is that raising tax on cigs. doesnt mean that people will quit smoking. There is a lot of KY people that smoke. I'm sure there are more smokers than not. Like I said why dont you tax something that the BIG FOLKS like to do, leave us smokers out of it.
  • by Anna Location: London on Mar 5, 2008 at 02:47 PM
    Why not tax fast food, it is as much a health risk as cigarettes. Obesity causes all kinds of health problems and cost thousands of dollars to take care of obese patients
  • by Donna Location: Ohio on Mar 5, 2008 at 02:18 PM
    Raise taxes and I stop coming to KY to shop. Not only will I stop shopping there, but so will others. Cut your spending and live within your budget as households do. Raise tax and less spending happens which further cuts tax revenue.
  • by donny Location: ky on Mar 5, 2008 at 02:05 PM
    i smoke 4 packs aday. guess i wont be paying 14 acarton any more. be more like 21 acarton now with the tax..owell. maybe i can smoke a horseweed.
  • by Casey Location: Lex on Mar 5, 2008 at 01:59 PM
    Legalize marijuana and tax the (edited) out of it. Now there's an idea.
  • by linda Location: mtsterling on Mar 5, 2008 at 01:31 PM
    i think cigarettes are high enough they are fixing it so we cant smoke any where .now they are fixing it so we cant afford to smoke even if we were allowed to .raise the tax on alcohol and you'd get more money.at least were able to drive when we smoke
  • by whitt Location: booneville on Mar 5, 2008 at 05:42 AM
    well i am an on and off smoka, cigs are way to high which in fact if your multiplied your problem by the hypotenuse and used the pythagorean theorum that would equal. uh. TOO MUCH FOR DA CIGS. HOMEY
  • by Hey Johnathan on Mar 5, 2008 at 04:52 AM
    Learn to spell and quit wasting your money on cigarettes. If you don't buy three packs of smokes, you can afford a dictionary. But if you want to kill yourself by smoking, go right ahead. The loss of someone who doesn't get it won't affect my life one bit except maybe when I have to pull my car to the side of the road when your funeral procession passes by.
  • by Wow Location: RIchmond on Mar 4, 2008 at 11:12 AM
    @Jacob Location: KY SMokes are taxed 30cents a pack up from 3cents till 3 years ago. Other states pay up to $3 or more a pack taxes. Alcohol is taxed at $13 a gallon. WHich do you think needs taxes raised when smokes kill 400,000 a year in this country and alcohol related deaths are merely 40,000? @dolfus They did a tobacco buy out. If you didnt raise some other crop or get cattle its your own fault. You saw it coming. Btw 12% is huge when you say well just cut off you and your family as that would make up 12%. Same as 1 causualty of war beign acceptable unless your it.
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