Connecticut smokers may pay more for their habit in a few months if the state legislature accepts Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s possible proposal for an increase in the cigarette tax.
If approved by the legislature, the tax would raise money to help close the state government’s budget deficit. Rell, who will present the budget to legislators Wednesday, said in November she expects a budget gap of more than $1 billion.
A spokeswoman for Rell would not confirm rumors of a tax increase Monday and said the details of the budget will be presented Wednesday.
If implemented, the increase in the cigarette tax would be the third increase in four years, state Rep. Leonard Greene said. Currently the state tax on cigarettes is $1.51 per pack.
New Haven state Rep. Bill Dyson said in a statement he supports the expected proposal as an alternative to spending cuts to state programs.
“Every dollar raised in cigarette tax is a dollar that doesn’t have to be cut from programs that benefit the people of New Haven,” he said.
Rell, a Republican, may not be able to count on support for the tax increase from members of her own party. Two Republican legislators said Wednesday they were inclined to reject the proposal based on the rumors they had heard in Hartford.
State Rep. Arthur O’Neill said he would have to study the details of the plan, but generally votes against tax increases. Greene said the proposal was “totally wrong” because the tax has already been raised in recent years.
“To target smokers again I think would be very unfair,” he said.
But O’Neill said he thinks the legislature, which has a Democratic majority, will likely approve the tax hike because it is relatively politically benign. The small percentage of the population that smokes means that raising taxes on the group will have few political repercussions for elected officials, he said. O’Neill compared the proposal to increases in the sales tax or income tax, which would affect almost everyone in the state.
“Taxes on cigarettes are the easiest to vote for,” he said.
David Denton ’07, who smokes about a pack of cigarettes each week, said because the price of a pack in Connecticut would probably remain lower than prices in New York or New Jersey, he would not be very troubled by a tax increase.
“I don’t think it’ll affect how much people smoke,” he said. “Does it really bother me? Not really.”
Yuri, a Yale student who asked that his last name not be printed, said he spends about $40 per month on cigarettes. He said a pack costs between $4.50 and $5.75 in New Haven, but in New York, where he lives, he spends about $8 per pack. Yuri said a cigarette tax increase would be unlikely to affect the amount he smokes.
“It will affect my bank account, but it probably won’t keep me from buying the amount of cigarettes I’m used to buying,” he said.
The revenue raised by Rell’s plan would depend on the number of cigarettes purchased in Connecticut remaining the same, since a significant decrease in the number of cigarettes purchased could offset any revenue gain from the increased tax. Previous tax hikes have yielded millions of dollars of extra revenue for the state in past years, but Greene and O’Neill said further increases might change the trend.
“We’re not going to get the revenue that they think we’re going to get,” Greene said.
O’Neill said higher taxes may lead Connecticut smokers to purchase cigarettes illegally, either by importing them across state lines from lower-tax states or by purchasing them from Internet retailers. He suggested that a “black market” could emerge to supply smokers with cheaper cigarettes from the South, where taxes on cigarettes are much lower, or Indian casinos in New York that are not subject to the full state tax. Individuals who purchase cigarettes online or in other states are supposed to pay a tax when they bring them across the border, O’Neill said, but the law is difficult to enforce because of the small size and weight of cigarettes.
Yuri said he has never purchased cigarettes online, although he said it seems like a good idea and he knows people who have.
“I’m too lazy to actually go through the process,” he said. “If I buy a carton of cigarettes online, I feel really gross.”