In unusual move, GOP legislators propose tax increase

Two Republican senators have introduced a bill to increase the state's tobacco tax from 35 percent to more than 47 percent.

The tax revenue, which could amount to as much as $320 million, would be funneled into the state's general treasury. According to Politics in Minnesota, earlier this week, one of the bill's co-sponsors -- Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester (the other is Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont) -- touted the increased tobacco tax as a way the state could reimburse schools the $2 billion owed them as a result of the funding shift used to pay down last summer's budget deficit.

The bill, which represents a rare instance of Republican legislators proposing a tax increase, now heads to the Senate Tax Committee.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Minnesota's cigarette tax is currently near the national average. Taxes add about $1.58 to each pack sold in Minnesota, which is the 22nd highest rate of taxation in the country.

Nelson said the tax could raise money for the state to reimburse schools.
Nelson said the tax could raise money for the state to reimburse schools.

The Minnesota American Lung Association has long advocated for a cigarette tax hike. During an interview with City Pages last month, ALA communications director Bob Moffitt said he thought a tobacco tax hike would've been "a real smart way" to close the state's $5 billion budget deficit last summer.

So, in a roundabout way, legislators may end up following Moffitt's advice. The state took money from public schools to help pay down the deficit, and now Republican legislators are proposing an increased tobacco tax to help pay back the schools.

In a day and age when the state can use each and every penny it can find, raising tobacco taxes is a low-hanging fruit. With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimating that smoking-caused health costs total $10.47 per pack sold in the U.S., legislators can make a solid non-partisan argument that there are good public health reasons for making cigs more expensive.

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