Monday, May 17, 2010

Cigarette tax a tough choice

Bluffton Today

This week you certainly got your money’s worth from this legislator. The session is winding down and things have to get finished. Those of us who know and understand the rules and how the process works are the folks that get things done.

One of the things we accomplished this week was the override of governor’s veto of the increase of the cigarette tax. At 57 cents apack, we are now pretty much at the regional average, but significantly under the national average. It was interesting that the debate on the floor was almost exactly as I anticipated a few weeks ago in one of my “inside baseball” civics lessons.

A 50-cent increase was what was doable, perhaps not optimal, but possible. The only arguments on the floor in favor of sustaining the veto were ideological or process related, with little reference to the merits of the debate.

There is little doubt that even amodest tax increase will deter asignificant number of kids from taking up smoking. No one argues that there are health costs related to smoking, much of which falls upon the state, especially if those health costs are generated by citizens of lesser means. The revenue from the tax will be put into an account until next year. When we get good metrics on the amounts and rate of flow, we will apply the dollars toward health care and Medicaid. There is some conversation that education and law enforcement will also see some of this revenue, but that currently seems unlikely.

It’s been almost 10 years since the effort to raise this tax got started. We mostly agreed that it needed to be done, but it just got waylaid by one thing or another each time we were close. Given the fact that this long-fought battle is won (at least for now), I should feel better about it than I do. The tax certainly meets the criteria for qualifying as a“user fee” in that costs associated with the use of tobacco products are being paid by those using the product. I get that. The truth is that I just don’t like the idea of raising taxes even when I know it’s the proper thing to do. My legislative responsibility tells me it should have been done years ago, but my gut resists.

Fortunately, we didn’t have much time to indulge in a lot of introspection, as there were deals to make and votes to whip. One was the Daufuskie and Sun City golf cart bill, which was almost down for the count. We revived that measure, got it passed in the House in record time and we are now looking for a Senate bill to bobtail. If we are successful with this bill, Mary and I might purchase that golf cart we’ve been thinking about.

Finally, the Jasper delegation made amove to bring forward a Sembler bill without environmental, workforce or oversight protections onto the floor of the House. It will be a race to see which bill finishes, and I really appreciate all I’ve been hearing from you on this. Sometimes, politics is not so much about making the best choices as it is about pursuing the least bad option. I will keep you posted on how this shakes out.

Bill Herbkersman ,R-Bluffton, represents District 118 in the South Carolina House of Representatives. He can be reached through his Website at www.herbkersman.com or by telephone at 757-7900