Central Ky. newspapers endorse $1-a-pack hike in cigarette tax; more legislators talking about need
Two Central Kentucky newspapers recently endorsed a $1-a-pack increase in the state cigarette tax as a good way to raise needed revenue while discouraging smoking, the leading cause of the state's many health problems. "How does Kentucky overcome a challenge that seems insurmountable? How can we eliminate a cultural touchstone that seems so ingrained into who we are as a state that some feel it is impossible to remove?" The Winchester Sun asked at the start of its editorial. "Simple," it answered. "We take a stand and implement strong measures that are essentially proven to save lives."
The editorial adopted the arguments of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, a broad and diverse group that is pushing for the tax increase as a way to discourage smoking, especially among young people, for whom price increases would be more significant. "This proposal makes sense financially as well," the editorial said. "The $1 increase is projected to generate more than $266 million in new revenue, which would address the state’s budget shortfall and provide much-needed funding to save the state’s pension systems without breaking past promises.. . . . The time for talking has passed. We need firm action. Kentuckians deserve it. The health of our state depends on it." The Lexington Herald-Leader's editorial noted that the state raised its cigarette tax "by 27 cents in 2005 and by 30 cents in 2009 to reach the current 60 cents a pack, one of the nation’s lowest. . . . Unless the per-pack increase is $1 or more, it would just be a tax on poor people, doing nothing to protect Kentuckians’ health."
It added, "A significant increase in the price of cigarettes, on the other hand, is the most effective way to combat the addiction that has cursed Kentucky with the nation’s highest rates of cancer and cancer deaths and overall ill health. In only West Virginia does such a high percentage of adults smoke."
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The prospect of major budget cuts and the need for pension financing are making more legislators consider raising taxes in the regular session that begins in January, Ronnie Ellis, Frankfort correspondent for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., said on KET's "Comment on Kentucky" Friday night. "The public may finally rise up and say enough's enough," when it comes to cuts, Ellis said. "I am somewhat surprised by the number of lawmakers who will ... privately talk about 'We're gonna have to do something in the session to bring in more revenue, or we'll bring up tax reform'," unlike a few weeks ago.