South Carolina - senators try to write bill on cigarette tax increase to override Governor Sanford's veto..

April 15, 2010 - On Tuesday, April 13th the South Carolina senators didn't get around to debating final approval on raising South Carolina's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack. Lawmakers instead spent Tuesday's session in a procedural argument about abortion legislation.

On Wednesday, April 14th South Carolina senators on approved raising the nation's lowest cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack. South Carolina's current cigarette tax of 7 cents a pack hasn't increased since 1977, when a pack cost 49 cents.

By a 32-12 vote, the Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to raising the tax to generate about $130 million for Medicaid programs. They'll set aside $5 million each for cancer research at the Medical University of South Carolina and programs to reduce smoking.

The Senate legislation would put the Medicaid share of the money into a trust fund and will be used in the 2012 budget year to head off deep spending cuts in health care programs for the state's elderly, disabled and poor after temporary federal help for those programs disappears.

When the cigarette tax cash is matched by federal money, it will generate about $500 million, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. That "will plug holes - not to start new programs; not to expand programs - simply try to provide what we're doing now," Leatherman said.

State Sen. Kevin Bryant, a Republican pharmacist from Anderson, argued the money should be used on a tax decrease elsewhere and not on money-losing government health care programs. "If we don't reform the system, we're going to continue to pour money down this drain and we're never fully going to have a good Medicaid system in this state until we reform the system," Bright said.

The bill now is bound for the House, which can go along with the Senate's plan or amend the bill and send it back to the Senate. House budget writers approved a cigarette tax increase of 30 cents a pack last month. But Senate rules won't allow that tax increase to be included in the spending plan they'll take up in a couple of weeks.

Legislators expect the bill will end up in a conference committee for differences to be worked out.

Republican Gov. Mark Sanford has promised to veto a cigarette tax increase if the money isn't used to reduce taxes in other areas.

Senators Wednesday scrambling to make it more likely the tax increase would survive a veto threat. They stripped out plans to use part of the tax increase to pay for agriculture product marketing and rural projects. Instead those initiatives would be paid for with money from the state's settlement with tobacco companies.

"The whole thing is an effort to get the votes needed to override a veto," said Senate Minority Leader John Land. The Manning Democrat two weeks ago rallied votes for those initiatives when the bill won second reading with a 26-16 vote. If Senate support holds, the margin the bill passed with Wednesday is sufficient to override Sanford.

References: SC Senate doesn't get to debate on cigarette tax,
The Associated Press, 4/13/2010; 50-cent cigarette tax passes in Senate,, 4/14/2010.

Related news briefs:
South Carolina - increase in cigarette tax still NOT likely..;
South Carolina - cigarette tax, State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex speaks up..;
South Carolina - among the worst states in the nation in smoking prevention efforts..;
South Carolina - among the worst states in the nation in smoking prevention efforts..;
South Carolina - most residents support raising the tobacco tax..;
South Carolina - with Gov. Sanford still in office most likely no tobacco tax increase in 2010..;
South Carolina - low cigarette pricing, smuggling, higher insurance premiums, etc..;
Lexington County, South Carolina has a workplace smoking ban..;
South Carolina - governor disappears, maybe its time to slip through a cigarette tax..;
South Carolina - next legislative session starts June 16th..;
South Carolina - lawmakers may disappoint again on cigarette tax increase..;
SC tobacco tax increase - doubt exists maybe NOT this year..;
South Carolina - can we expect a tobacco tax increase this year??;
South Carolina a magnet for cigarette black market..;
South Carolina - legislators eager to pass cigarette tax increase - the odds are against them??;
South Carolina to spend NO money on tobacco prevention..;
South Carolina (SC) will NOT devote any resources to anti-smoking programs..;
In 2008 will the politicians do what's right for the State of South Carolina??;
South Carolina - Tobacco Tax Increase Killed - State House Fails to Override Governor's Veto..
Tobacco Tax Increase – What’s Wrong with South Carolina??