The idea: raise taxes to reduce taxes. Senate Republicans say they’re willing to double the state tax on cigarettes — if the 65 million that’s raised by the tax hike goes to reducing property taxes. Senate Co-President Jeff Lamberti, a Republican from Ankeny who is a smoker, says some Republicans are willing to raise the cigarette tax because it may prompt some people to quit — and keep kids from starting. “We’re going to acknowledge the concern about smoking…and we’ll go along with a doubling of the tax, but we are not going to use that as a license for the legislature to spend more money,” Lamberti says. Senator Mark Zieman, a Republican from Postville, says the idea is to take that 65 million and send it to schools. That increase in state aide would reduce local property taxes for schools. “It’ll be a true property tax reduction of about six-point-two percent,” Zieman says. Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Dows who is also a smoker, says he hopes their idea breaks the “logjam” at the statehouse that’s prevented Democrats and Republicans from striking a deal on the state budget.Iverson says their proposal will raise taxes on one group and lower taxes on another group — a lot whom are the same people. Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, says Democrats still want more spending than Republicans propose in key areas.”We’re pleased that the Republicans are willing to take a look at the cigarette tax increase,” Gronstalsays. But he says Democrats will not back down until they get more spending on education, health care and state economic development programs. “We appreciate their willingness to step forward and recognize that revenue increases are part of solving this year’s budget problems,” Gronstal says. Gronstal refuses, though, to simply accept this latest Republican proposal. “Everybody likes to draw lines in the sand. Our line in the sand is we need an appropriate budget,” Gronstal says. But the top Republican leader in the Iowa House is willing to draw that line and say ‘no’ to a cigarette tax increase. “The House Republicans’ position in this matter is we’re going to spend about a four-and-a-half percent increase this year in state government to fund salaries and health care and educational needs…and quite frankly, we think that’s enough,” House Speaker Christopher Rants says. Rants, who is a Republican from Sioux City, says Republicans in the House are proposing their property tax reduction plan. “You don’t do that by raising taxes somewhere else to pull that off,” he says. Rants refused issue an outright rebuke of his fellow Republicans in the Senate, but he came close. “I’m not wild that they’re throwing (a cigarette tax increase) out there for debate,” Rants says.
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