Lawmakers Refuse Cigarette-tax Veto Override

Four of the five Houma-Thibodaux House members voted Thursday to override Gov. Bobby Jindal's veto of a 4-cent cigarette-tax renewal.

Override supporters fell 12 votes shy of the number needed.

Jindal called the legislation by Democratic Rep. Harold Ritchie of Bogalusa a tax increase because it is set to expire.

The Republican governor had appealed directly to GOP lawmakers to reject an override, which would have been a strong show of defiance in a state where governors traditionally hold a lot of sway over the Legislature. Only two gubernatorial vetoes have been overridden in modern times.

The House vote likely shelves any attempt by the Senate to override, since both chambers' support would be needed.

Rep. Gordon Dove, R-Houma, was the only delegation member to vote against reversing Jindal's decision. He said he did so because it is a tax increase.

Voting for the veto were Reps. Damon Baldone, D-Houma; Jerry Gisclair, D-Larose; Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville; and Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux.

Harrison said the $12 million annually generated by the tax supports health-care programs and draws matching Medicaid money. The loss is about $30,000 per household.

“There's one way to avoid this tax,” Harrison said. “Quit smoking cigarettes.”

Baldone has said select taxes are needed, especially since the state faces a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

Richard told lawmakers that the tax money is needed for health care.

“I voted for the renewal, and I'm going to stick by it,” he said.

It was the closest lawmakers have come to overriding a gubernatorial veto in 18 years, when Edwin Edwards was last in office.

Ritchie, among others, argued it is lawmakers' right to question authority.

“I know a veto override is a tough vote,” he said. “The governor had a right to veto a bill. But it's also our right to override that veto.”

In the end, the House voted 58-44 to sink the override motion. Seventy votes were needed.

While many lawmakers were aware of the head count going into today's debate, it didn't stop critics lashing out at the governor.

The bill's author even dug up a medical article Jindal wrote while serving as the state's Health secretary in the 1990s.

“In here he made the same arguments that we made on this House floor,” Ritchie said holding the paper, “that we made on the Senate floor, when this bill was passed.”

“When you look at it, this tax that we're talking about is much more like a user fee, “ said Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite. “I don't pay it because I don't smoke.”

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