Governor in tough position after lawmakers pass tobacco tax increase


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's governor could be in the hot seat when it comes to a tobacco tax. The Utah Senate has signed off on the tax, which is part of an overall effort to solve this year's budget woes, but Gov. Gary Herbert is sticking by his "no new taxes" pledge.

The governor is not saying "absolutely not," and pressure is mounting on him to say "yes" to the tobacco tax.

There were lawmakers who were saying no to it a week ago, but Utah senators decided to approve the tax Thursday. It would raise about $44 million dollars to put in the general fund. If that money is not available, more cuts will happen.

Already there are cuts planned for the Utah State Hospital and the Department of Corrections. The tobacco tax money is already factored into the budget, even though some see it as a bitter pill to swallow.

"This is the way the process was meant to be. It puts a little pressure on you down here. You cut, and you cut and you cut, and finally you get to the point where you don't want to cut anymore," says Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.

"It is not the governor's preferred way to raise revenue," says Angie Welling, spokeswoman for the governor's office. "He has opposed it from the beginning of the session. He has proposed alternatives for lawmakers to raise revenue, which would avoid the need for this tax increase, and he would prefer those still."

There is still work left undone too. Lawmakers and the governor are at odds over cuts to public and higher education.

The Senate's idea for $21 million in cuts to public education is on hold, while lawmakers work to find ways to avoid that cut, but choices are limited.

Lawmakers already tapped into half the rainy day fund but want to leave some left over in case its needed next year.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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