GOP Senate plan triples Ohio cigarette tax to 74 cents a pack
COLUMBUS - Ohioâ€™s cigarette tax would more than triple, to 74 cents a pack, to help balance the state budget under a tentative agreement reached by a majority of Senate Republicans yesterday.
But at least four Senate Republicans oppose the plan, saying they wonâ€™t vote for a tax increase. The GOP controls the Senate 21-12.
"The budget plan is to raise taxes as opposed to reducing the amount of growth of government," said Sen. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon). "I went through all my old campaign flyers - I couldnâ€™t find anywhere I promised to raise taxes."
GOP senators Kevin Coughlin of Cuyahoga Falls, Jim Jordan of Urbana, and Scott Nein of Middletown also oppose the plan. They support reductions in state spending and oppose raising taxes.
Senate President Richard Finan (R., Evendale) planned to introduce a budget bill today and hold hearings the next two weeks before a tentative vote after the May 7 primary.
Minority Democrats are happy that Mr. Finan plans hearings, but they are withholding judgment until more details emerge, said Sen. Greg DiDonato (D., New Philadelphia).
The plan would help patch the stateâ€™s $1.2 billion budget deficit by raising $26 million from the cigarette tax this year and $373 million next year, said Sen. Jay Hottinger (R., Newark).
The Senate also proposes using about $260 million of the stateâ€™s rainy-day fund this year and $170 million next year, he said.
The Senate also will propose changing the stateâ€™s tax code to minimize the effect of President Bushâ€™s economic stimulus package on Ohio. Without the changes to the tax code, Senate Republicans estimate that the state would lose $150 million next year as a result of the economic package.
The plan also would ask Gov. Bob Taft to cut $57 million more from state spending in the next fiscal year, beginning July 1.
Mr. Hottinger said the 50-cent cigarette tax increase was needed because there are no other options for covering the entire deficit. Just tapping the nearly $1 billion rainy-day fund is not enough, he said.
Ohioâ€™s current 24-cent cigarette tax is higher than Indiana (15.5 cents), Kentucky (3 cents), and West Virginia (17 cents) but lower than Michigan (75 cents) and Pennsylvania (31 cents).
Sen. Doug White (R., Manchester), a southern Ohio tobacco farmer, wants the plan to restore $32 million to Ohio tobacco farmers taken from the stateâ€™s settlement with tobacco firms.