By Ryan Braschler
TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) — It’s a pretty familiar fight in Oklahoma City when budget discussions come around. Republicans in the statehouse have proposed a $1.50 per pack tax on cigarettes.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a cigarette fee was unconstitutional in August. Now, lawmakers are calling it a tax. They’re hoping it will shoulder the bulk of the budget deficit, but others in the statehouse could block this proposal as well.
We all know the state’s budget is in crisis.
“Lawmakers need to stop playing politics,” says Gene Perry with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “And make whatever deal they need to make to pass revenues because the alternative is going to kill people.”
Policy experts don’t think the newly proposed budget plan will be the answer.
“There’s good options out there,” Perry says. “We’re disappointed to see that there’s willingness to pursue some revenue options, others aren’t being considered at all.”
One option that is on the table, the cigarette tax. Oklahoma ranks in the top ten in how many people smoke, and lawmakers are hoping an extra $1.50 per pack will raise more than 250 million dollars for the state. But smokers aren’t happy.
“If you’re going to quit smoking, you’re just going to quit smoking,” says Kelly Winton, a smoker. “I just don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s fair. I think it’s ridiculous.”
“Even though a cigarette tax could be a part of that [budget solution],” Perry explains. “It really shouldn’t be the only thing. Or only do it with the gas tax, which is also going to have the biggest impact on some low-income or middle-income people.”
Let’s say a person smokes a pack a day. That’s an extra $10.50 per week and an extra $547.50 per year a smoker will pay.
“It’s unfortunate that they seem to be coming back to one group [of people] over and over again,” Perry says. “Instead of spreading that around.”
Policy experts believe it could encourage people to stop smoking, but then where does that tax money go?
“I guess it would be ok if we saw that it went somewhere,” Winton says. “Which we never get to see where it goes or if it goes anywhere but to the rich.”
“If we do that and we ask nothing of the wealthiest corporations and the most profitable businesses and the most profitable individuals,” Perry says. “Then it really doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t know how it makes sense to lawmakers. We need to fill the budget hole. It’s a legitimate emergency if we don’t. But we need to do it in a way that’s fair.”
The budget proposal needs a supermajority to pass through the House and Senate. That’s 75% of votes. It passed through committee Tuesday with an 18-9 vote, that’s only 66.6%. It could go up for a vote as early as Wednesday.