House Tax Committee Chairman Not Rushing Vote On Cigarette Taxes

Gov. Bobby Jindal has framed the legislative session as being all about his fight to repel tax increases. But the fight doesn't seem to be materializing in the House Ways and Means Committee, the panel where all levies must originate.

Chariman Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, said he hasn't decided when to hold debate on proposals to increase cheap smokes taxes, the only hikes that have any semblance of support among legislators as they grapple with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall. Greene said it would likely be the week of May 9, at the earliest, before they are considered. Even then, he said he sees little hope of any increase reaching the House floor, where it would require approval by two thirds (70) of the membership.
"What's the point?" Greene said when asked whether his committee would send a cigarette tax bill to the floor.

In the unlikely event a bill reached Jindal's desk, the governor has promised a veto. Though the Constitution allows lawmakers to override a governor's veto with a two-thirds vote in both chambers, it's not something legislators, who have historically yielded to the governor and face voters later this year, would tackle.
Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Franklinton, proposes to increase the per-pack tax from 36 cents to $1.06, along with raising the smokeless cigarettes levy from 20 percent to 30 percent of invoice price. Jindal has said he will let the tax fall to 32 cents by allowing a 4-cent portion of the current levy expire without renewal. Ritchie's proposed increase still would leave Louisiana among the lowest cigarette taxes in the United States. The national average is $1.45. Surrounding states range from 68 cents in Mississippi, $1.15 in Arkansas and $1.41 in Texas.