JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers late Monday approved the state’s second cigarette excise tax increase of the year, and Gov. Haley Barbour said he will sign it into law.
The plan adds 25 cents a pack on cheaper cigarettes made by companies that did not participate in the state’s 1997 settlement of a massive lawsuit against big tobacco firms. Barbour had asked legislators to approve the tax, which is set to take effect Wednesday.
The large companies have lobbied for the new fee on their competitors, saying the makers of cheap cigarettes have a financial advantage by not paying millions of dollars a year for the settlement.
On May 15, Mississippi enacted its first cigarette excise tax increase since 1985, adding 50 cents a pack on all types of smokes. The rate went from 18 cents to 68 cents a pack.
Top lawmakers said the tax of 25 cents on cheaper cigarettes will generate about $8.8 million a year.
That’s a small portion of the overall $6 billion lawmakers are scrambling to approve before the state’s new fiscal year begins Wednesday. But the threat of having to find $8.8 million of budget cuts pressured some lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Willie Simmons of Cleveland, into accepting the tax.
Simmons said he feared the cuts would come out of Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the needy.
“I’m going to hold my breath, hold my nose, and I’m going to vote for this bad boy because this is the right thing to do,” Simmons said.
As Mississippi lawmakers passed dozens of budget bills Monday, Lionel Collins went to the Capitol to remind officials how their financial decisions will affect his life.
Collins, a 34-year-old Jackson resident, said he has had “crippling arthritis” his entire life. He uses a wheelchair and relies on home health care.
Collins said it’s urgent for lawmakers and Barbour find a way to keep Medicaid in business when the state’s new budget year begins.
“I receive personal care services, and I need my Medicaid in order to continue receiving those services,” Collins said.