House Dem: Raise cigarette taxes, lower driver fees

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A South Florida lawmaker wants to increase cigarette taxes by $1 a pack and is offering a political sweetener to try to get it passed: Use the money to roll back fees on motorists, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, filed the bill (HB 1049) last week. Lawmakers in 2009 also approved a $1-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes — or a “surcharge” as supporters called it — as they grappled with budget problems.

Waldman said the state has seen decreases in cigarette smoking, and he hopes the additional taxes will further reduce tobacco use by young people.

“This is a health care bill, plain and simple, to stop the youth from smoking,” he said Monday.

With the Republican-dominated Legislature opposed to tax hikes, Waldman said he would offset the higher cigarette surcharges by rolling back a series of unpopular fee increases that lawmakers also approved in 2009. Those fee increases caused motorists to pay more for such things as vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses.

It is too early to know whether Waldman can get lawmakers to go along with his proposal, which he said would bring in roughly $900 million a year in additional cigarette taxes. No Senate version has been filed.

Rep. Steve Precourt, an Orlando Republican who is chairman of the House Finance & Tax Committee, said he had not seen Waldman’s bill. But more broadly, he said lawmakers don’t want to raise taxes and fees this year.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.