Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is the chief proponent of the tobacco tax-tag scheme and says he will only go along with raising the ridiculously low tobacco tax if the proceeds go to bail out an impending spike in car tag prices issued by counties. The current tag “crisis” is due to a shortage in a 15-year-old bailout fund fed by 2 cents of the 5 cent sales tax on new car sales. New car sales have tanked and the subsidy fund is short some $25 million, so counties hiked tags.
Two things: l. Car tags aren’t a state revenue source, they’re a county levied ad valorem tax on one personal property item, namely the automobile. 2. The price of automobile license plate is totally unrelated to damage and cost to public health caused by tobacco use.
Bryant has lead the public-and much of the press-off on a false rabbit trail with his car tag-tobacco tax scheme, and made it into a this-or-nothing proposition. As the Senate’s presiding officer he holds life-or-death control on whether or not a cig tax hike will pass. What he thinks matters, no matter how obtuse is his rationale.
Bryant has absolutely no credentials in the cigarette tax hike debate. Initially he wanted it for Medicaid, later to subsidize an income tax cut and now the car tag gambit. His trouble is he is nailed down to some “no new taxes” pledge to keep his bonafides to the Republican right.
But get this: a week or so ago when the anti-Tax “Tea Party” was assembling in front of the state Capitol, Bryant was upstairs in a room negotiating with House fiscal leaders on how much to raise the tobacco tax, and reinstate the hospital bed tax.
So when the Senate-House tax negotiations took a break, what did our nimble Mr. Bryant do? He went downstairs (the only state official to do so) and regaled the Tea Party crowd with a speech denouncing taxes.