If you’re a smoker, you won’t be paying a higher state tax on a pack of cigarettes anytime soon. The governor and legislative leaders have agreed to a state budget plan that does not call for increasing the cigarette tax. Senate Co-President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, says Republican leaders in the House refused to include a hike in the cigarette tax in the deal. “It’s a problem, but they’re not going to do it,” Kibbie says. In January, Governor Vilsack called for an 80-cent-per-pack increase. Anti-smoking groups were pushing for a buck-a-pack increase. In April, the Senate voted to raise the tax 36-cents, but the Republican-led House refused to go along. “You know, there hasn’t been (any) interest in the House that I’ve seen all session,” Kibbie says. He predicts the issue will be debated by legislators again in 2006. “It’ll be another day eight months from now,” Kibbie says. But Kibbie warns the outcome might be the same next year if backers of the cigarette tax hike don’t come up with a new strategy. “They’re going to have to do a better job of lobbying,” Kibbie says. Governor Tom Vilsack will not comment on the legislature’s decision not to raise the state cigarette tax. “I don’t know the status of that, so I won’t answer that question until the details are worked out,” Vilsack said during a news conference Thursday afternoon in his office. The governor says he’s interested in working with legislators to raise the cigarette tax because raising the price of a pack of cigarettes will prompt some kids not to start and others to quit — saving lives.
Vilsack met all day Thursday and again on Friday morning with legislators to come to an agreement on state spending. “We’re heading towards a resolution but the details have not been fully worked out,” Vilsack told reporters. Vilsack praised legislators for agreeing to spend more money on education, but said the extra dough may not be enough to stop those who govern Iowa, Iowa State and U-N-I from raising students’ tuition in January. Other details of the plan are under wraps. House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, says he wants to reveal the details to other Republicans in the legislature first “to make sure they’re supportive and obviously, you’d like for members to know what’s in the bill before they hear it on the radio or read about it in the newspaper.” House Republican Leader Chuck Gipp of Decorah is also mum about the details. “There’s still on-going discussions taking place and we want to make sure that our members know what’s going on before they hear from somebody else,” Gipp says. The House and Senate will convene at 10 o’clock Friday morning to begin considering the budget deal.