Stivers says no to opioid tax, higher cigarette tax
The Senate has no plans to raise taxes on painkillers and cigarettes — a move the House approved to raise about $500 million over the next two years for education and other programs.
The Republican-led Senate is in the process of writing its own version of the state’s two-year budget, but leaders won’t yet say what their decision to jettison the proposed tax increases means for education.
“I don’t know about that. You’ll have to wait and see our budget,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters Friday after voicing opposition to the tax increases.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Friday the full Senate is expected to vote on its budget bill next Tuesday or Wednesday after it is approved by the Senate budget committee.
Republican House leaders said the extra money by their proposed tax package would be used largely to reverse spending cuts to education programs proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin, also a Republican.
The House plan includes raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 50 cents to $1.10 and levying a 25 cent tax on prescription opioids each time a dosage is sold by a distributor to a pharmacy, the first such tax in the country.
With the extra revenue, the House offered more to education than Bevin proposed, including funding for transportation at K-12 schools, a state subsidy of health insurance costs for retired teachers who aren’t old enough to qualify for Medicare, the main funding formula for schools and public universities.
Stivers said there is “a real question” about the legality of taxing opioids. He said the tax on cigarettes would not be good policy because it would be based on a shrinking source of revenue.
Once the Senate approves its budget bill, a conference committee made up of leaders from the House and Senate, will be formed to iron out differences between the two chambers.
House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, said Friday he is certain the Senate will make changes to the House budget plan but he does not know what they will be.
Without seeing them, Osborne said he would not want to hazard a guess about how the House might react to them. On Thursday, he emphasized that education funding is important to members of the House Republican caucus.
“As you know, the restoration to the education cuts was very important to this chamber and not only in our caucus but in the minority caucus as well,” he said, “and I don’t believe anything has happened to cause those things to be less important.”
Friday marked the 51st day of this year’s 60-day session. Lawmakers are scheduled to work next Monday through Thursday with an off day next Friday.
Stivers said that schedule could change. This years legislative session cannot run past April 14.