The Clarion-Ledger, 1/29/9

Legislation that lowers the amount of a proposed tobacco tax hike advanced Wednesday in the state Senate, but House leaders and a spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour cited concerns that could change the final product.

Members of a Senate committee agreed to raise the 18-cent tax by 31 cents and use part of the revenue to help keep car tag costs from rising. The full Senate could debate the bill today.

The measure would bring the total tax to 49 cents per pack, and it is significantly lower than a proposal that cleared the House earlier this month. House Bill 364 would hike the tax to $1 per pack, with the revenue going into the general fund. The Senate committee substituted its language in the House bill.

Barbour has removed his longstanding objection to raising tobacco taxes, but his spokesman said the governor prefers the revenue not be earmarked for a specific use. That stance also may hinder a separate House plan to use tobacco tax revenue to offset recent education cuts, or other proposals to use the money to pay for Medicaid.