A vote in the full House to override Jindal’s Tuesday veto of a bill that renews 4 cents of the state’s tax on cigarettes failed. Seventy votes — that’s the original number of representatives who voted May 24 to renew the tax — were needed to override Jindal’s veto. But 11 representatives who originally voted to renew the tax jumped ship, tethered their lifesavers to Steamship Bobby and voted against the override.
The tax generated only $12 million in revenue dedicated to health care for the state annually, but supporters of the renewal argued that Louisiana stood to leverage an additional $38 million in federal matching funds by renewing the tax. So, as the bill’s sponsor pointed out on the House floor Thursday, failing to renew the tax amounts to a $50 million hit against a state grappling with a devastating budget shortfall.
“What could you spend that money on?” sponsor Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, asked rhetorically of his fellow lawmakers before the vote. “That’s almost half the money that we moved for the [Medicaid Coordinated Care Network], twice as much as we would need to keep five prisons open, 20 times more than we would need to operate school-based health care clinics. You know, what the governor has done with this veto is repudiate his life’s work and he’s given a 10-percent tax break to 20 percent of the people who smoke who cost this state hundreds of millions of dollars each year that the other 80 percent of us have to pay for.”
Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, also spoke on behalf of Ritchie’s House Bill 591 heading into the vote: “It takes a lot of courage to take on the governor of the great state of Louisiana, even when the governor’s demonstrably and egregiously wrong as he is in this matter — it still takes a lot of courage,” Edwards said. “If the veto stands, the tax on cigarettes falls by 4 cents; if the override is successful, the tax on cigarettes stays the same. So, who’s talking about raising cigarette taxes? Nobody — that’s not what this bill does. The veto message is off target, as has been the governor from day one on this issue.”
The 11 state representatives who voted in May to renew the tax but lost their spines on Thursday and are directly responsible for the override’s failure include, sadly, two from Lafayette: Republican Nancy Landry and Speaker Pro Tem Joel Robideaux, no party, were joined in scuttling the override by Reps. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego, Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, Charles Chaney, R-Rayville, Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, Kay Katz, R-Monroe, Thomas McVea, R-Jackson and Thomas Wilmott, R-Kenner.