A key Republican says in the next two weeks the Senate will vote on a cigarette tax increase. Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Dows, is adamantly opposed to an increase in the tobacco tax, but he will allow the Senate to consider it. Iverson says the whole budget situation’s up in the air until the cigarette tax debate is resolved. There are 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats in the Senate this year, and that’s one reason Iverson’s allowing the proposal to be considered. “We have to have that discussion before we can go anywhere,” Iverson says. Governor Tom Vilsack has suggested an 80-cent-per-pack increase in the state tax on cigarettes, and Democrats in the Senate want a cigarette tax increase, too. Iverson, the Republican floor leader in the Senate, isn’t suggesting what level of cigarette tax increase senators should consider, just that senators should vote and move on. Iverson says state tax revenues are growing faster in Iowa than in 49 other states, and he says one reason is because Iowa did not raise taxes during the recent recession. He is “not thrilled” about the prospect of raising the cigarette tax. House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, says it will not happen. Republicans hold 51 of the 100 seats in the Iowa House. That means Republicans control the House debate agenda, and Rants is standing in the way of a vote on a cigarette tax increase. “We are passing a budget that we think is balanced. It grows government at a rate of about four percent and quite frankly, we think that is enough,” Rants says. Rants ridicules Democrats in the state Senate who are pressing for a cigarette tax increase. Rants says he’s “mystified” that Democrats want to press a tax increase when they’ve just regained a little power in the legislature. Some Republicans in the Senate, though, will vote for the cigarette tax increase. Senators Maggie Tinsman and David Johnson both say they will do it for health reasons with the belief some smokers will quit and fewer young people will start smoking because of the higher cost of cigs.
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