A proposal by two first-term Republicans to double the state's tobacco tax has attracted the support of a veteran Republican.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee, is a co-sponsor of the tobacco tax-hike bill. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, and in the House by Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester.

The bill would tack on $1.29 in taxes per pack of cigarettes, using the increased revenue -- about $320 million every two years -- to repay debts to public schools and to reduce business property taxes. The bill is a departure from the Republican-controlled Legislature's opposition to raising any taxes.

Taxes Committee chair Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the bill "didn't get a lot of support" when Nelson suggested it last year.

Minnesota's tobacco tax is $1.23 per pack. Nelson said the state has high business taxes and moderate tobacco taxes and added, "I'd like to see that reversed.''

Rosen said she sees this as a tobacco-prevention effort, such as the state's smoking ban and a 2005 75-cents-per-pack increase.  "I view it as prevention,'' she said, citing studies that have shown a direct correlation between the tobacco tax and smoking rates. Tax rates that drive up the cost are particularly effective in keeping teenagers from taking up the habit, Rosen said.


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