Howell Proposed Four-Cent Cigarette Tax

Howell Proposed Four-Cent Cigarette Tax

Scott Wants Constitutional Amendment for Education

Va. Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) has proposed a four-cent per pack tax on the manufacture of cigarettes in Virginia.

With 180 billion cigarettes per year produced here, she said, the measure would produce $364 million in revenue that her bill would earmark for education.

“Most of the tax will fall outside of Virginia, and outside of the United States” because manufacturers would pass the increase to purchasers, she said.

Howell expects a fight “every step of the way” from Virginia’s powerful tobacco lobby in Richmond, she said.

Va. Gov. Mark Warner is constitutionally required to present a balanced budget, and with no major tax increases in the pipeline to ease a $1.2 billion budget shortfall, “We are going to be downsizing government,” Howell said.

“I am still hopeful for tobacco tax increases, but even that seems unlikely, so [the budget] will be balanced with cuts. I hope we will keep public education and human services funding as top priorities,” Howell said.

She is also sponsoring a bill to reform and combine the state’s information technology services, which spend some $448 million a year to maintain 15 different contracts for Dell computers, eight different email systems, and 268 different servers, she said.

“It is somewhat chaotic and it needs to be reformed and streamlined.”

Virginia, the first state in the nation to have a cabinet-level post for technology, said the bill is based on the state’s first few years of experience with that office.

Va. Del. Jim Scott (D-53rd) of Merrifield is pushing a constitutional amendment that would obligate the state to pay 55 percent of the cost of public education beginning in FY 2006, when it could first go into effect.

It would mean that Northern Virginia and Fairfax County would get a greater return on the funds they contribute to public education in grades K-12, Scott explained.

Scott also proposed a $950 million bond for school construction and renovation and technology that would be equivalent to a higher education bill passed last year.

Under the state’s present funding formula for public education, known as the LCI, Howell said, “Our constitution requires a free and appropriate education for every child in the Commonwealth. Some localities are so poor, they can’t meet the minimum standards.

“The legislature establishes and then funds those minimum standards based on a [derived] from each locality’s ability and effort to tax itself.”

The fact that Fairfax County’s contribution helps support poorer school systems has rankled local parents and officials for years.

Although one constituent asked about repealing the Dillon Rule, “I doubt there is enough support” in the General Assembly, Scott said.

“We ought to focus on specific pieces of the Dillon Rule, like tax reform, to give counties the same taxing authority as cities to address the tax problems of high-growth areas.

“They are looking for some way to get money to finance public facilities, like schools and roads, that they can’t finance now,” he said.