08/15/05 — Kerr says new cigarette tax best deal available

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Kerr says new cigarette tax best deal available

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 15, 2005 1:49 PM

The increase in the state tax on cigarettes isn't something Wayne area lawmakers wanted to see but Sen. John Kerr said the compromise represented the best deal legislators could come up with.

"I've always been a strong supporter of the tobacco industry, but things have changed, and it was inevitable," Kerr said today.

The Legislature agreed to raise the current 5-cents-per-pack tax to 30 cents starting Sept. 1 and to 35 cents next July. North Carolina, the leading tobacco-growing state in the nation, has historically had one of the lowest cigarette taxes.

Kerr said the tax hike is expected to generate $70 million per penny.

"Nobody likes a tax, but unfortunately tobacco is not king any more," Kerr said. "There's been a lot of publicity about the health issues. It was a fair compromise, and that's what legislation is about, compromise."

Kerr said he believes tobacco farming in the state will survive despite the tax hike and the quota buyout that eliminated the federal price support system.

"And perhaps the farmers have a better deal under the new system," he said. "The sad thing is grandmother losing her allotment to help pay the taxes on her land. It's a burden, and that's the downside. But Americans are innovative."

Rep. Russell Tucker of Duplin County pointed out that the compromise figure was much less than the increase sought by Gov. Mike Easley.

"I was one of the holdouts not to exceed 25-cents increase on the cigarette tax, but I did compromise on the additional 5-cent to be effective July 1, 2006," Tucker said.

Sen. Charlie Albertson of Duplin said he believes the increase was the best deal lawmakers representing tobacco-growing areas could get, considering the tight budget situation facing the state.

"I think this was a pretty good compromise that we worked out in as much as there were those who didn't want any tax, and there were those who wanted 80 cent and 90 cents," said Albertson.