Florida senate votes 39-0 to raise tobacco tax..

April 19, 2009 - The Florida Senate unanimously voted Thursday, 4/16/2009 to raise the state cigarette tax (levy, user fee, surcharge) $1 per pack (from 34-cent per-pack to $1.34 and impose a $1 per ounce tax on smokeless tobacco and cigars) in an historic vote on a bill that two years ago couldn't even get a hearing. The 39-0 vote came despite intense lobbying from Big Tobacco, a stinging letter of disapproval from Republican anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, and obvious opposition from both the governor and House Republicans.

It raises $1 billion and is now an indispensable piece of the Senate's $65.6 billion budget package. The Senate's tobacco tax bill, entitled ''Protecting Florida's Health,'' was initially conceived to offset steeper cuts to healthcare programs and reimburse the state for expenses on tobacco-related illnesses in Florida. But the Senate has instead used it to balance its budget.

The cigarette tax is one of two key funding pieces to the Senate's budget package, which senators also passed unanimously. The other piece is a gambling expansion plan that gives roulette wheels and craps tables to the Seminole Tribe.

The Senate made three significant changes to its tobacco bill: (1) Voted to shield Tampa Bay's cigar manufacturers and Miami's cigarette maker, Dosal Tobacco, from most of the tax by applying the $1 per ounce surcharge only to tobacco sold in Florida. The change effectively exempts about 85 to 95 percent of the tobacco products manufactured in Florida because they are shipped out of state. (2) Softened the restrictions on the sale of tax-free cigarettes by the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes. The bill had required that all tax-free cigarettes sold by the tribes be labeled ''Indian cigarettes'' and anyone caught possessing them who was not a tribal member would pay a $1,000 fine. Instead, they agreed to a measure to give tribal members tax-exempt coupons to obtain tax-free cigarettes. (3) Imposed new restrictions on cigarettes sold over the Internet to keep them out of the hands of anyone under age 18. The proposal requires that anyone who buys cigarettes online provide a signature from the purchaser or another adult and accept a follow-up phone call to verify that the buyer is over 18.

House and Senate leaders have until May 1 to resolve their differences over the budget and, on Thursday 4/16/2009, gave themselves until April 26 to finish negotiations.

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Reference: State Senate OK's $1 cigarette-tax increase With a 39-0 vote, the state Senate overcomes the anti-tax mantra and passes a historic increase in the state's cigarette taxBY MARY ELLEN KLAS Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau (Herald/Times staff writers Marc Caputo and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report), Miami Herald, 4/17/2009.