The Catoosa County News

Tobacco tax increase surfaces in General Assembly

- By Dave Williams

Georgia’s thirdlowes­t-in-the-nation tobacco tax would go from 37 cents a pack to $1.35 under legislatio­n the Senate Finance Committee approved Friday, June 19.

If the bill makes it through the General Assembly, it would represent the culminatio­n of years of effort by health-care groups to build support for raising the state’s tobacco tax.

What is finally helping the proposal gain support is the state’s financial situation. The full Senate passed a fiscal 2021 state budget earlier Friday with $2.6 billion in spending cuts forced upon lawmakers by the impact the coronaviru­s pandemic and subsequent lockdown


of the economy has had on tax revenues.

In voting against the budget, minority Democrats complained that legislativ­e leaders were refusing to consider revenue-raising measures that could help offset some of the cuts.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, an Atlantabas­ed think tank that has consistent­ly called for legislatio­n increasing revenues, released a statement late Friday, June 19, supporting the tobacco tax hike.

“Lifting the tobacco tax will simultaneo­usly help our state fund critical priorities, such as health and education, and boost health outcomes,” said Danny Kanso, a GBPI policy analyst. “GBPI commends Chairman (Chuck

Hufstetler, R-rome) and the Senate Finance Committee for their leadership in passing legislatio­n that will generate several hundred million dollars per year by bringing our state’s abysmally low tobacco tax in line with the level assessed in most states across the nation.”

Raising the tobacco tax to $1.35 a pack would fall well short of the national average of $1.80 a pack, and Kanso suggested lawmakers consider that when the bill heads to the Senate floor.

But the legislatio­n faces an uphill battle in the Georgia House of Representa­tives.

“I’m not a tax increaser, particular­ly during this (economic) climate we’re in,” House Speaker David Ralston, R-blue Ridge, said earlier this week.

Ralston also is skeptical about another effort by Hufstetler’s committee to free up more tax revenue. The Senate Finance panel passed a bill Thursday, June 18, that would eliminate a series of tax breaks the state offers to lure businesses to Georgia.

The speaker argued that getting rid of such tax incentives would put a damper on economic developmen­t efforts that create jobs.

“This is not a good time to be killing jobs,” he said. We need to be about the business of growing jobs back.”

 ??  ?? David Ralston
David Ralston

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