SALTER: Smoke, chew, and spit: The politics of taxing tobacco in Miss.

Mississippi House and Senate conferees are set to return to the Capitol on Tuesday at 3 p.m. to resume debate on a proposed hike in the state’s cigarette excise tax.

The full Legislature debated the cigarette tax issue for three months in the 2009 session before agreeing to recess. A cigarette tax hike has dominated legislative debate for much of the last six years with little success in forging a compromise between the two chambers and Gov. Haley Barbour.

Staggering state revenue shortfalls in the current fiscal year have succeeded in bringing legislative leaders to the negotiating table and a compromise is expected next week on a cigarette tax hike – with many observers projecting that legislators will increase the current 18 cents-per-pack tax to around 68 cents-per-pack.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, and Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, will lead the negotiations.

“I think we’re in a position to make progress if everyone comes to the table with an open mind,” said Watson.

Clarion Ledger