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Health, teacher groups push cigarette tax hike

SANTA FE – Teachers unions, an affiliate of the American Cancer Society and other nonprofit groups plan to make their case again this year for a tax increase on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Dan McKayThey say New Mexico could generate tens of millions in new revenue – and discourage smoking, especially among teens – by raising taxes by $1.50 a pack and an equivalent amount on electronic cigarettes.

The tax on a pack of cigarettes would climb from $1.66 to $3.16.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, however, remains an obstacle. She has repeatedly warned lawmakers that she won’t support a tax increase. And a House committee rejected a similar proposal last year.

Sen. Howie Morales, a Silver City Democrat and candidate for lieutenant governor, has filed a proposal, Senate Bill 25, that would increase the cigarette tax and dedicate the extra revenue to schools.

Supporters say the price increase would prompt people to quit smoking and discourage youngsters from taking it up in the first place.

“This is the No. 1 way to do that,” said Rep. Liz Thomson, an Albuquerque Democrat who will propose similar legislation in the House.

Revenue estimates from the tax increase range from $42 million to $89 million a year.

New GOP chief: The state Republican Party has a new executive director – Ryan Gleason, former chief of staff to then-House Speaker Don Tripp.

In recent legislative sessions, Gleason has been heavily involved in the push to overhaul and simplify New Mexico’s tax code.

He has a policy background, with experience as an aide to then-U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici and stints in the New Mexico departments of Taxation and Revenue and Finance and Administration.

The Republican Party also announced the hiring of Deputy Executive Director Michael Horanburg; James Clarke, director of political strategy; Finance Director Dominic Pacheco; and spokesman Greg Blair.

Amendments: State Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, will ask his colleagues this session to adopt a pair of constitutional amendments that would tap into New Mexico’s permanents funds to make about $100 million a year available for public safety and behavioral health programs.

A 13-member board would consider how to dole out the money, taking a holistic view of the criminal justice system, he said.

“We’ve never looked at crime the way I’m talking about,” Ely said.

The legislation would need approval by voters and Congress, he said. It would create a new pool of money by allowing the state to withdraw an extra 0.5 percent from the land grant and severance tax permanent funds.

Dan McKay: dmckay@abqjournal.com

 

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