BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Two years after unsuccessfully attempting to prevent a renewal of a 4-cent-per-pack cigarette tax, Gov. Bobby Jindal may recommend his own larger proposal to raise tobacco taxes.
The Jindal administration has floated the idea to lawmakers for the coming legislative session that begins in April, as part of the Republican governor's proposed rewrite of the state tax code.
Anti-smoking groups are cheering the apparent turnaround, saying it's past time that Louisiana — where tobacco taxes are among the lowest in the nation — boost costs to discourage smoking. The state has higher numbers of smokers than the national average.
"We are definitely encouraged by the governor's proposal to increase the tobacco tax, since a $1.00 increase would prevent 35,800 kids from becoming addicted to smoking and save 21,900 Louisiana residents from premature smoking-caused death," said Andrew Muhl, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society in Louisiana.
Jindal's point man on the tax code revamp, Tim Barfield, is including the idea of a tobacco tax hike as he devises a package of proposals that would get rid of Louisiana's personal and business income taxes and raise the state sales tax.
"We are willing to consider this and other changes as part of a larger effort to eliminate the income tax in a revenue neutral way," the governor's press secretary Sean Lansing said in a statement.
Louisiana's state tax on cigarettes is 36 cents per pack, far below the average $1.48 charged around the nation, according to data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Only two states have a lower tax rate: Missouri and Virginia.
Talk of a cigarette tax increase from the governor's office is a striking turnaround from 2011, when Jindal vehemently opposed a 4-cent-per-pack cigarette tax renewal, calling it tantamount to a tax increase because the levy was otherwise set to expire.
Jindal vetoed the $12 million-a-year tax renewal, though it had support of two-thirds of the state House and Senate. Lawmakers then tacked the tobacco tax extension onto a constitutional amendment that didn't need Jindal's approval and that won backing from voters in a statewide election, with the dollars dedicated to health care. So, the 4-cent tax remained on the books.
The difference this time, according to the Jindal administration, is that any dollars generated by a tobacco tax increase would be used to help offset the loss of revenue from eliminating income taxes.
Jindal's office says the whole tax rewrite will be "revenue neutral," not increasing state income or shrinking it. The governor has unveiled concepts of the tax code revamp, but offered few details of how the pieces will fit together.
Lansing wouldn't say how much the governor is proposing to raise the cigarette tax.
Muhl said anti-smoking groups are seeking a $1-per-pack increase on cigarettes and corresponding rates for other types of tobacco, which would raise an estimated $223 million annually.
The organizations, however, want the dollars earmarked for health care programs, rather than flowing into the state's general fund for any use.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.