A significant tax increase to cigarettes, chew and other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, got its first hearing in the House today, having already passed out of the Senate. As the tax proposal moves forward, it faces rising pressure from Senate Republican leadership to kill the bill.
Senate Bill 354 would boost the cost of packs of cigarettes and cans of chew by at least a $1.50. The cigarette tax passed out of the Senate last week on a 27-22 vote.
The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Mary Caferro, a senator from Helena, says the bill will help people stop smoking while providing funding for a needed wage increase for direct care workers in senior and long term care.
But Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas says that although the bill received enough Republican support to pass out of the Senate, that was in part just to keep the bill alive in case the tax increase in the bill was needed to fill gaps in the state budget.
During a press conference yesterday, Thomas said with the way state the budget shaping up and with the likely adoption of increased revenue projections by the House, the tobacco tax won’t be passed by the legislature, unless needed.
“It’s a — in essence — a tax that if something happened and we needed some revenue, it’s there," Thomas says. "If you don’t, we’re not going to use it obviously. I don’t think the legislature will as a whole.”
A committee of House lawmakers did not vote on the bill after initial testimony today.