The Clarion-Ledger, 3/26/9

An increase in Mississippi’s cigarette tax appears unlikely this year after state lawmakers failed to agree Wednesday on how much the 18-cent tax should be raised.

Proposals to increase it to 60 cents and 80 cents died on a key legislative deadline as House and Senate leaders ended negotiations without a compromise. Both sides said it’s doubtful the issue will resurface before the 2009 regular session ends Tuesday, but they did not rule out the possibility.

Their lack of agreement leaves in limbo a funding source lawmakers hoped to use as a national recession continues to erode state revenues. Negotiators had tentatively agreed to use some of the money to help smoking cessation programs and boost a fund that keeps car-tag costs from rising.

But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson said the Senate’s final offer of 60 cents would not generate enough revenue or do enough to deter people from smoking. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby said he doubted the House’s 80-cent proposal would pass the Republican-controlled Senate, where some lawmakers object to any tax increase.

Both plans also faced potential opposition from GOP Gov. Haley Barbour, a former tobacco lobbyist who proposed a much lower hike. His spokesman, Dan Turner, said Barbour worries a recent federal tobacco tax increase will push the state’s rate too high and diminish revenues. He said the governor objects to earmarking the money.