JACKSON – The Senate leadership is keeping alive the option of increasing the cigarette tax.

Wednesday was the deadline to pass revenue bills, such as tax increases, out of at least one chamber of the Mississippi Legislature. While the Senate did not vote to increase the cigarette tax, it did pass a bill with four dissenting votes that contains the legal code section that would be needed in any bill that raises or lowers the cigarette tax.

That means legislators still can opt at a later point in the session to try to increase the cigarette tax.

The cigarette tax language was placed in a bill dealing with issuing state bonds to pay for building projects on university and community college campuses and for other state building projects.

The bond bill contains numerous construction projects throughout the state. At this point, there is still a long way to go before deciding which bond projects will be in final legislation.

But for the time being, those bond projects, as well as the cigarette tax, remain alive

A coalition of medical groups and others are advocating for an increase in the 68-cent per pack state tax on cigarettes as a way to primarily reduce smoking, but also to raise state revenue. When the session began, there was little expectation that legislative leaders, who have been averse to raising taxes, would consider a cigarette tax increase.

The bill containing the cigarette tax code section is authored by Senate Finance Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, as well as other members.

Fillingane said sheepishly the bill keeps alive the possibility of increasing or lowering the cigarette tax.

Lt Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said, when asked about the bill, “I am not for raising anybody’s taxes.”

The bill was debated briefly on the Senate floor Wednesday before it was approved. The code section was discussed, but there was no effort on the Senate floor to remove it.

— by Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal