South Carolina lawmakers are a step closer to increasing the state's cigarette tax for the first time in more than 30 years.
House lawmakers voted to keep a 30-cent per pack increase in a $5.1 billion state spending plan.
The state could not tap the money - an estimated $88 million - until July 1, 2011. It would have to be spent on health care. Supporters said the tax increase would help defray budget cuts when more than $1 billion in federal budget aid runs out.
"The tax . . . would allow the state to take care of some of our health care needs next year when that freight train comes barreling at us," said House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun.
However, House lawmakers rejected larger increases, including a 50-cent increase they approved last year. That money would have provided subsidies for private employers or low-income workers to purchase health insurance.