Utah Senate passes tobacco tax increase

Utah Senate passes tobacco tax increase

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The tax on a pack of cigarettes would increase by about $1 under a bill passed by the Utah Senate on Thursday.

The proposal from Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, that passed would hike the tobacco tax from 69.5 cents a pack to roughly $1.70.

The average state tobacco tax is $1.34 per pack, according to the National Tobacco Cessation Collaborative.

Christensen's proposal passed by a vote of 20-9, sending it to the House for consideration.

His original bill would have jacked the tax up to $2, but a Senate committee rejected it. He lowered it to match a similar billalready passed in the House.

Under a tight budget, some lawmakers say the $43 million the tax would generate in the coming fiscal year makes it an attractive source of funding.

Executive Appropriations Co-Chairman Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, presented lawmakers on Thursday with some budget revisions that listed the tobacco tax as one possible crutch to lean on. Bigelow said striking a fair balance in the budget was the aim.

"You may not give us a kiss goodnight, but you may not throw us out the door," Bigelow said.

Juggling a tax hike, a health issue and a budget boost all in one bill made it a hard sell for some lawmakers, who seemed to vote for it with sighs of resignation.

"We want people to stop smoking, but it's probably not the best policy to build the budget on," said Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who voted for the bill.

Sen. Howard Stephenson didn't have a problem giving a thumbs down, saying the increase would just drive money into bordering states like Wyoming with lower tobacco taxes.

"We have seen cross-border activity stimulated in the past," Stephenson said. "We will be sending more and more of it to our neighboring states."

The tax per pack of cigarettes in Wyoming is 60 cents, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Gov. Gary Herbert has said he opposes any tax increases, but he was non-committal about it during his appearance on KSL Newsradio's "Let Me Speak to the Governor" program Thursday night.

"I've got to look at it in its totality," Herbert said.

Herbert says his top two priorities are to grow the economy and protect education. He didn't specify how the dollar-per-pack increase fit in with those aims.

"There are a lot of moving parts," Herbert said. "It's just not that simple."

Herbert previously has said he would veto the tax. The 20-9 vote in the Senate Thursday would be veto-proof if it holds through a second vote. Herbert says his options include vetoing the tax, or even letting it go into law without his signature.


Story compiled with information from The Associated Press and Andrew Adams.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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