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Cigarette tax passes General Assembly

May 5, 2010 7:09:00 PM - thestate.com
In another potentially historic moment in state history, the Senate voted 41-1 Wednesday to increase the state's cigarette tax by 50 cents. The vote put the Senate in agreement with the House-passed bill, accomplishing the same potential milestone. But the move also fast-tracks the issue to Gov. Mark Sanford's desk, where a veto awaits. Sanford has been clear he would oppose any cigarette tax increase that does not also carry a corresponding tax cut. If, as promised, Sanford vetoes the measure, the question then becomes whether the House can muster the two-thirds vote necessary to override Sanford. The Senate appears poised to be able to override the governor as it did last year. But Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, said Wednesday's Senate vote may not necessarily be an indication of how the vote will go in a Senate veto override vote. Peeler opposes the cigarette tax increase, he said, but voted to concur with the House passage of the bill because the House struck down a provision to spend $3.5 million in tobacco settlement money on infrastructure improvements along Interstate 95. Peeler said he still thinks 30 cents is the "magic" cigarette tax increase figure in both the House and Senate. "It's going to be close either way," Peeler said. In the House, the measure also is expected to muster enough votes to override a Sanford veto. House members will be under great pressure to raise the tax, which has been at 7 cents per pack since the 1970s, because without it, and the millions of federal dollars South Carolina will be able to draw down from Washington with it, the projected $1.2 billion budget deficit will be an albatross to lawmakers and residents alike. Sanford, who leaves office in just over 200 days, will be long gone when the Legislature takes up its next budget in 2011, and lawmakers will still have gaping holes to cover in state services and salaries. -- Roddie Burris

USA, South Carolina: (Latest Stories)