Monday, April 26, 2010

Moving on with a cigarette tax

Bluffton Today

After agreat relaxing week at the Heritage, it was back to the hard slog in Columbia. Before I get into the politics, allow me to comment on some of the nicer aspects of being your legislator, even during this time of brutal austerity.

One of the most pleasant parts of my job is hosting our visitors, and we had several this week. There was agreat group up from Sun City. As always, they were well informed, had good questions, and made certain I understood what were the important issues in their neighborhood. I enjoyed and appreciated the visit.

We also had anice visit from my friend Ella Wyman and her boyfriend, Patrick Parker, who was Jasper County’s “senator for a day.”

Ella is the beautiful daughter of long-time family friends, Ed and Angela Wyman. I met her the day she was born and have been more impressed with her every day. She is very smart and focused and we expect great things from her.

The cigarette tax is in its final negotiations and I predict we will ultimately get a levy of between 30 cents and 50 cents per pack. As Chief Whip of the Republican Caucus, I am in the discussions of how this thing is going to play out.

Today, I get to share with you some “inside baseball” stuff on the complex dynamic behind this measure.

We have been close to enacting this fair and necessary tax for some time. Up until now, there has always been some extraneous issue introduced that allowed the governor’s vetoes to be sustained. In truth, it’s been apretty cynical delaying of the inevitable. The voters want this, both houses of the legislature want this and now we have to be satisfied with half aloaf in order to get any kind of tax.

The discussion is not about passing the bill; it will pass. What we are discussing is how we override the governor’s veto. The calculus is this: if the tax is from 30 cents to 50 cents, we have the votes to override. From 50 cents to adollar a pack, the override votes are questionable. Thus, half aloaf.

Next year we will have adifferent governor with perhaps a keener appreciation of the necessity and the propriety of this tax. Then we complete the cigarette tax to a reasonable level where it will temporarily sustain our Medicaid obligation until the level of smoking is reduced by the tax.

Ideally, we will see a health benefit from that reduction, but I am under no illusion that the cigarette tax alone will eliminate the scourge of smoking from our state. At the least we should have this “user fee” to offset the cost of the effects of smoking.

This week I am bringing the Sembler matter before my Economic Development Subcommittee. There are three considerations driving what we will explore. The first is the environmental aspect of the project.

Regardless of what you may have read in other media outlets, that has always been my primary concern. The second consideration is local jobs. And the third is the creation of a commission or process by which the first two considerations are overseen and assured for the life of the project. It’s as simple as that.