Taxes could ignite fire in smokers

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–Not one in a hundred of you will remember it, but there was a popular novelty song of at least a half-century ago which poked fun at folks addicted to cigarettes.
And while at that time smoking had not been determined to be hazardous to one's health, one of the lines talked about "puffing yourself to death."
And to underscore the addictive powers of smoking, the song concluded thusly: "Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate I hate to make him wait…but I've gotta have another cigarette."
All of which is a roundabout way of giving you another warning about smoking: If you still smoke and if Gov. Bob Riley has his way, it is going to cost you a lot more money.
One of the tax-raising bills in the controversial package now pending in the Legislature would raise the state tax on a pack of smokes from the present 14.5 cents to 31 cents. This hike would generate about $50 million a year in new revenue.
While this might seem like a substantial increase, even if passed Alabama would still have one of the lowest taxes in the nation on cigarettes. The national average is 62 cents. This is a bit misleading, however, because most states do not allow cities or counties to impose a cigarette tax. Alabama does, and some counties impose as much as 21 cents a pack.
Be sure the proposal has the strong support of anti-smoking organizations, who believe that a higher price for cigarettes will persuade many to not smoke or quit.
Says Chuck White, CEO of the American Lung Association of Alabama: "We think the higher tax, the better.
A proposed three mill hike was turned down by a 55 percent-45 percent margin, a five mill hike did worse: It was rejected by a 60 percent-40 percent
margin.
Is that a harbinger of tax-raising referendums to come? Gov. Riley hopes not, but realisticaly it probably is.
Last week Dr. Hubbert was at it again. Pending before a Senate committee was a bill that would guarantee no lay-off of teachers in the next fiscal year no matter what happens to the tax package proposed by Gov. Riley.
Several committee members warned of the dire impact this "save-the-teachers" bill would have without a funding source but that was before Dr. Hubbert explained the situation to them:
"If this bill does not pass, we can forget all the rest of it. I'm off the package (i.e., his support for the Riley proposals). I'm through with the whole process if this doesn't pass."
In plain language what Dr. Hubbert said was pass this bill or you can forget about the Riley legislation.
To paraphrase an old legislative story, after having the situation "splained" to them like that the committee unanimously approved the bill.
Reps. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, and John Knight, D-Montgomery, have introduced gambling legislation in the special session, knowing full well that neither has a chance of passage.
It would take a two-thirds vote…a so-called "supermajority"…to even bring the bills up for consideration. That is an unreachable goal.
Rogers has offered a proposed amendment to the Constitution which would create a state lottery as well as open the door for casinos in this state.
Knight's measure is a familiar one–it would allow dog tracks in Alabama to have video blackjack and other such games.

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