Tobacco Taxes Highlight New State Laws; Measures Take Effect Tomorrow

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Marianne Cousart isn't happy that she's going to have to start forking over more money for cigarettes this week.

But it's not going to stop her from lighting up.

"I'm addicted," she said as she took a smoke break from her job at an Atlanta law firm. "I will still buy them, even though I know it's bad for me.

"The die-hard smokers are going to smoke no matter what."

That's what Georgia's bean counters are counting on. The tobacco tax increase that takes effect tomorrow is projected to put an additional $180 million a year into the state's coffers, which have been depleted by the recession.

The state tax on a pack of cigarettes will go up by 25 cents -- from 12 cents to 37 cents. Cigar smokers will have to pay an extra 10 percent to indulge.

And for the first time, Georgia will levy a 10-percent tax on smokeless tobacco.

The tobacco tax hike highlights a host of bills enacted by the General Assembly this year that become effective Tuesday.

Among the other new laws are measures:

-- requiring farmers to install meters measuring the water they use to irrigate their crops.

-- imposing a fee on builders to help the state beef up efforts to limit erosion at construction sites.

-- prohibiting the naming of state highways or property for an elected official unless he or she is dead or has been out of office for five years.

-- extending the state's moratorium against a water supply technology known as aquifer storage and recovery through 2009.

-- banning large, loud motorboats from Lake Oconee.

-- exempting private docks built along coastal waterways from the Georgia Coastal Marshlands Protection Act.

The quarter-a-pack cigarette tax increase was the most Gov. Sonny Perdue could coax from a reluctant legislature.

Georgia's first Republican governor in more than 130 years stunned lawmakers when he unveiled a multi-layered tax package during his first week in office.

But Perdue quickly backed away from a plan to roll back the homestead tax relief program begun by his Democratic predecessor, Roy Barnes.

He also was forced to give up on a plan to raise state taxes on liquor when it became clear the General Assembly wouldn't pass it.

Finally, he scaled back the tobacco tax hike significantly from his original proposal, which would increase the cigarette tax to 58 cents a pack, raising $478.5 million a year.

Left with that smaller tobacco tax increase, the governor sold it to the General Assembly and public as bringing tobacco prices into line with today's market.

He pointed out that when the 12 cents-per-pack state tax on cigarettes was established in 1971, Georgia's annual per-capita income was $3,600. It since has risen to more than $22,000.

With strong support from anti-smoking groups, Perdue also pitched the proposal as the best way to discourage young people from smoking. …