Politics & Government

S.C. Senate approves cigarette tax increase, Sanford veto expected

S.C. House lawmakers think they can muster the votes needed to overturn an expected veto by Gov. Mark Sanford of raising the nation's lowest cigarette tax.

The Senate voted Wednesday to agree to the House version of a bill to raise that tax to 57 cents a pack from 7 cents per pack. The higher tax would pay for $125 million in state-run health care programs for low-income residents and $5 million each for smoking cessation and cancer research. The bill now heads to Sanford's desk, whose office reiterated his opposition.

Sanford's veto has been the final hurdle in the decade-long push by public health advocates, hospitals and others to raise the tax. House leaders said Wednesday they are weary of the debate - a perennial flashpoint in the General Assembly.

"I'm working to try to talk to members and see if we can get the votes," said House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington. "It's just an issue we'd like to find resolution on."

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, has also said he will vote for the bill. That's a change from 2008, when Harrell took to the well of the House to successfully kill a 50-cent increase.

Sanford spokesman Ben Fox said Wednesday that the governor would likely announce his decision next week, but that he remains opposed to any tax increase that does not include an equivalent tax cut elsewhere.

"We continue to believe it's unwise to raise the overall tax burden on South Carolinians," Fox said.

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