For over two decades, Mississippi and Florida have bucked the national trend of increasing cigarette taxes. But now, staring down massive budget deficits, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour recently signed a 50 cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase, and Florida Governor Charlie Crist appears ready to do the same with a $1 per pack hike. Given that each is a conservative governor with at least some national aspirations, the result is a bit surprising to say the least.
In the case of Governor Barbour, his approval was especially unexpected in light of his status as a former tobacco industry lobbyist. Governor Crist's support was likewise unanticipated, largely because he has signed pledges to oppose tax increases as both a Governor and as a candidate for federal office. Crist was careful to frame his support as entirely focused on the public health aspects of cigarette tax increases, though it's hard to believe that his desire to avoid forcing a special session to balance the budget had nothing to do with his decision. Thus is the responsibility of governing. Sometimes tax increases cannot be kept off the table.