The Daily Journal: No butts about it
Sanford snuffs out cigarette tax hike 

COLUMBIA — Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the Senate’s cigarette tax increase Tuesday, saying it guaranteed future tax increases.

“We’ve been calling for an increase to the cigarette tax for five years, but the question has always been what happens to the money,” Sanford said. “While I’d applaud the General Assembly for finally moving a cigarette tax proposal to my desk, I can’t in good conscious sign off on something that both increases the overall tax burden, and is completely irresponsible in the way it expands a host of Medicaid benefits without any way to pay for them in future years.”

The veto drew mixed review from members of the local delegation, Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, saying he would vote to sustain the veto, with Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, voicing his disappointment in the Sanford’s action.

The Senate passed the bill in early May, calling for a 50 cent-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes, higher than Georgia and North Carolina. The increase would have moved the state from last in the nation at 7 cents to 39th in the nation with a total per pack tax of 57 cents. The last time the General Assembly addressed cigarette tax was in 1977. Georgia’s cigarette tax stands at 37 cents, and North Carolina’s is 35.

Sandifer said the tax increase in relation to South Carolina’s neighbors is a reason for his support of Sanford’s veto.

“I’m going to vote to sustain the veto,” he said. “I made a pledge a number of years ago to the voters of Oconee County that I would do two things regarding a cigarette tax: I would not vote for one that is higher than our two adjacent states, and secondly, any tax would have to be revenue neutral. In other words, if we are going to raise a tax, we had to have a lowering of a tax or reduction in the same piece of legislation. And I voted for that last year.”

The House of Representatives passed a cigarette tax increase last year that called for an increase of 30 cents, which was to be offset by the elimination of the sales tax on groceries. That changed, Sandifer said, when the Senate took the bill. The dedication of the tax revenue to the expansion of Medicaid would simply lead to the unnecessary growth of the state government, he said.

“It would be the largest tax increase in the history of South Carolina,” Sandifer said. “I can’t support that. The desire to help eliminate cigarette smoking is a wonderful thing, and I’m in agreement with that, but if I’ve told my constituents that I will not vote for this kind of increase, then I feel obligated to do that.”

The governor had called for the revenue of a cigarette tax increase to be used to cut another tax, preferably the income tax, rather than being devoted to Medicaid. Sanford has been a major proponent of a flat-tax option for South Carolinians.

“A lowered and flattened income tax would represent a significant step towards making our state more attractive and improving our competitive position when it comes to growing our economy,” Sanford said.

Meanwhile, Alexander said the veto represented a neglected chance to move the state forward in regards to smoking cessation and making a healthier South Carolina.

“I’m obviously disappointed that he chose to veto the legislation,” Alexander said. “It (tax increase) has the opportunity to save a lot of lives through smoking prevention and trying to also help the uninsured citizens of this state, and I think this was the right thing to do at the right time. It was a historic opportunity for South Carolina to take a bold step forward, and I deeply regret that we missed that opportunity.”

The bill will now go to the House, where a two-thirds majority will be required to overturn the veto.

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