Cigarette-tax Extension Revived On House Floor

The Louisiana House on Monday revived a proposal to extend a 4-cent portion of the state cigarette tax, tacking it onto a separate bill that is immune from a gubernatorial veto.

The surprise move came five days after the House failed to override Gov. Bobby Jindal's veto of a similar measure and means the issue could ultimately be decided by voters this fall.

Rep. Harold Ritchie added the tax proposal to a proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Bill 53 by Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, that seeks to redirect more than $40 million a year in tobacco-settlement proceeds to TOPS college scholarships.

The amendment is part of the governor's legislative package, and the money that would be freed by the change is being counted on to plug remaining holes in the state budget.

With Ritchie's amendment, the bill also would extend a 4-cent portion of the state's cigarette tax, which is due to expire in July 2012, and dedicate the money to health-care. The tax, which first passed in 2000, generates about $12 million a year, which comes to $50 million when federal matching money is included.

Although constitutional amendments go straight to voters once they've been approved by the House and Senate, Alario's bill still has to go back to the Senate for concurrence. Alario said he plans to ask the Senate to reject the House version and have the bill sent to a conference committee so Ritchie's amendment can be stripped from the bill.

But House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, who supports tax extension, said he hopes the Senate will agree to the change. "This is something the people want," Tucker said. "It avoids a $50 million hole in the budget where the resources are so desperately needed, and given that it's a constitutional amendment the people will make the decision," Tucker said.

Ritchie, D-Franklinton, also authored the original tax-extension bill that passed both houses before being vetoed by the governor.

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