If there was one safe bet at the beginning of the 2009 session of the Mississippi Legislature in January, it was that some kind of cigarette tax increase would be enacted. But events have intervened and the momentum has slowed.
It’s time to pick up the tempo again.
Some legislators looking to a cigarette tax increase as a revenue source to plug budget gaps have lost their sense of urgency since Congress approved a massive stimulus package that includes significant help for the states.
Others appear less inclined toward a tax increase -or at least a big one – because in separate legislation Congress raised the federal tax on cigarettes by 61 cents a pack to pay for an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Neither of these occurrences has eliminated the need for Mississippi to raise its unconscionably low 18-cents-per pack tax, which is $1.03 below the national average and even 46 cents less than the average of the surrounding states.
Early in this legislative session the House passed an increase of 82 cents in the tax to $1 per pack. The Senate approved a 31-cent increase to 49 cents – what was then the average of Mississippi and its neighbors, before Arkansas increased its tax to $1.15.