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Up in Smoke

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  Early this year, Gov. Bobby Jindal made it clear he would veto HB 63, the proposed tobacco tax introduced by state Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Franklinton, but the state GOP took no chances, coming out against the tax hike with one voice in recent weeks.

  Robin Edwards of the Louisiana Tea Party Federation called it another one of "liberalism's failed experiments in social engineering," while former congressman-turned-lobbyist Bob Livingston cut a 30-second radio spot against the bill, calling it an "urgent legislative action alert from the Republican Party of Louisiana" and warning, "Liberal lawmakers in Baton Rouge are dead-set on a massive $120 million tax hike."

  Louisiana Republican Party chairman Roger Villere Jr. sent out an email denouncing the bill, saying "Our party is firmly committed to getting Louisiana's fiscal house in order without increasing taxes on Louisiana families and small businesses. Raising taxes during tough economic times kills jobs."

  Nowhere in Villere's statement did he mention the nature of the proposed tax, an omission that almost certainly was deliberate. Despite the general anti-tax mood, an April poll by Southern Media and Opinion Research found two-thirds of the state's likely voters support raising taxes on cigarettes. (The bill also would have boosted taxes 50 percent on cigars and pipe tobacco.)

  On May 16, Ritchie — facing the fact that he didn't have enough votes — pulled his bill from the House Ways & Means Committee, though the committee officially deferred it (meaning it could be brought up for discussion again later in the session ... but don't bet on it).

  The bill would have raised taxes on cigarettes from the current 36 cents per pack (third-lowest in the nation) to $1.06. Cigarette excise taxes vary widely by state, from New York's $4.35 to Missouri's 17 cents. The mean is $1.385 per pack. Ritchie's introduction of the bill had a unique morbid irony — he's a longtime smoker who admits he can't quit the habit ... and he runs the Poole-Ritchie Funeral Home in Bogalusa. — Kevin Allman

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