By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Saturday, Rep. Jim McClendon (R) from Springville told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ in exclusive phone comments that the state legislature is very unlikely to pass a new tobacco tax to prevent expected cuts to the Alabama General Fund. We asked Rep. McClendon about HB712 which would raise the Alabama state excise tax on a pack of cigarettes to $1.42 per pack. Rep. McClendon said that he thought that HB712 was dead on arrival in Montgomery. He thought there was very little support for any kind of a tax increase during this legislative session.
Rep. Joe Hubbard (D) from Montgomery is the sponsor of the cigarette tax bill, HB712. Rep. Hubbard said, “Smoking costs the State hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and it is not right to ask children and seniors to shoulder that burden. That burden should fall to smokers.” said Rep. Hubbard. “It’s not right to ask the non-smoking citizens of this State to pick up the tab for smokers’ medical bills. “
Rep. Hubbard denied that the $1.42 a pack tax is unduly burdensome. Rep Hubbard said, “These are voluntary fees. If you don’t want to pay the fee, don’t smoke.”
Rep. McClendon said that a lot of Republican legislator campaigned on a platform promising no new taxes and that those legislators were not likely to go back on those promises to voters by passing a big new tax increase.
In his press release, Rep. Hubbard said that his proposal would generate $220 to $240 million per year to fund Alabama Medicaid. The federal government would then apply a 2.7-to-1 match on each dollar raised by the cigarette tax, generating another $880 million each year for Medicaid which would balance Alabama Medicaid’s budget while freeing up money for the Alabama General Fund “agencies that suffered draconian cuts in the controversial House budget that passed on April 10.”
Rep. McClendon said that he thought that Rep. Barton (R) from Mobile whose committee is responsible for the House General Fund budget had worked closely with Senator Arthur Orr (R) from Decatur who chairs the Senate Committee which is responsible for the General Fund budget. Rep. McClendon believes that the General Fund budget which will pass the Senate is very close to Chairman Barton’s AL House budget. Rep. McClendon said that the Senate would make some changes to the budget but that he did not anticipate that the Senate would pass a budget which included a massive new tax increase.
Rep. Hubbard’s bill, HB712, has been endorsed by Barack Obama’s U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin and 24 different healthcare groups in Alabama, including the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA).
Alabama Medicaid is an entitlement provided by the State of Alabama and the Federal Government. The program pays for healthcare services for poor families, poor children, over 40% of the pregnant women in the state, and pays the Medicare copays and deductibles for poor seniors.