Covering Louisiana

Jun 21, 2011 5:59 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP

House renews tobacco tax, trying to bypass Jindal

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana House reinvigorated a proposal Monday to renew the 4-cent cigarette tax, trying to sidetrack Gov. Bobby Jindal's veto of the measure.
A super-majority of the House and Senate backed the extension earlier this session. But Jindal vetoed the measure, and the House refused to override him.
On Monday, Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, amended his tax proposal into a Jindal administration bill to redirect a stream of tobacco settlement money to the state's free college tuition program, called TOPS.
The move, if backed by the Senate, would bypass Jindal and instead head to voters for consideration. Sen. John Alario, sponsor of the amended bill, said he expects to ask senators to reject the add-on.
"I would have to reject that," said Alario, R-Westwego. "That was not the intention of our bill."
Jindal gave a noncommittal statement about whether he'd sacrifice the bill because of the cigarette tax, leaving open a possibility the renewal could win final passage.
"While we are disappointed that the House amended the TOPS bill to include the cigarette tax, we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. TOPS is too important to our children and to the future of our state," Jindal said in a statement.
Rep. Jane Smith, R-Bossier City, tried to fight off the tobacco tax renewal without success.
"This bill is not about a cigarette tax," she said.
The measure would dedicate a stream of tobacco settlement money to the college tuition program, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. Otherwise, the dollars would be divided between health care and education purposes.
The House voted 58-41 for Ritchie's amendment and the proposed constitutional change, 90-12.
Jindal opposes the cigarette tax renewal as a tax increase. Supporters of the tax renewal say it would discourage smoking, and they said they don't want to support anything that would decrease the cigarette tax.
Ritchie said by putting the initiative on a ballot, voters could decide if they want the tax.
Louisiana's cigarette tax will drop to 32 cents per pack in June 2012, without the renewal. The cigarette tax, first enacted 11 years ago, generates $12 million annually.

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