Plans for a major increase in the state’s cigarette tax were thrown into disarray Tuesday as lawmakers fought over the size of the proposed tax hike and how the additional revenue should be spent.
Lawmakers from both sides were still predicting passage late Tuesday, but it was not clear whether the tax would go up 72 cents, as some Democratic senators advocate, or 61 cents, as Gov. John G. Rowland has proposed
It also was not clear whether the tax increase would be extended to cigars and other tobacco products — as some Democrats suggest — or whether money from the tax increase would be targeted for anti-smoking programs and other health care issues.
A vote is scheduled Wednesday afternoon in the state Senate, with a final vote expected in the House later Wednesday if the Senate passes the measure.
Rowland proposed the 61-cent increase earlier this month, saying he wants it in place by April 3 to help close a two-year budget gap estimated at $1 billion. The 61-cent increase would generate about $40 million in the current budget year and about $130 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal office.
The tax increase has bipartisan support, but some Democratic senators want to broaden it to include cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff and other products. Supporters say it is only fair to apply the higher tax to tobacco products that tend to be used by those with higher incomes than cigarette smokers.
Senate Majority Leader George Jepsen, a Democratic candidate for governor, upped the ante on Monday, calling for a 72-cent increase in the cigarette tax. The larger increase is expected to generate an additional $22 million a year, which Jepsen said should go to programs to help people quit smoking and prevent them from starting.
A group of House Democrats added to the confusion Tuesday, saying that as much as half of the additional revenue brought in by the tax increase should go to anti-smoking and other health care programs.
The proposal to raise the current 50-cent per pack cigarette tax to $1.11 would make Connecticut’s cigarette tax the third-highest in the country, after New York and Washington states.