S.C. losing billions by failing to raise cigarette tax

Published in Columbia Regional Business Report

State and local advocates for an increase to the state’s cigarette tax say the Legislature’s failure to increase the tax, currently at 7 cents a pack, has cost South Carolina more than $3 billion in matching federal Medicaid dollars.

Numerous proposals to increase the state’s cigarette tax have been on the table since 2002, and none has been enacted into law, the advocates said. The organizations held a news conference today outside the Statehouse.

Last week’s budget action by the House Ways and Means Committee that cut funding for health programs will affect children, families and older S.C. residents.

“Increasing the cigarette tax won’t solve all the challenges facing us, but it will help us make it past this lowest point in our state budget revenues,” said Teresa Arnold, legislative director for AARP South Carolina.

Sue Berkowitz, executive director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, advocates for an increase of the state’s cigarette tax as a way to fund and stabilize the Medicaid program in South Carolina.

“These funds are needed to avoid life-threatening cuts that will impact current and future Medicaid participants,” she said.

An increase would enable the state to draw down additional federal Medicaid match dollars, tripling the revenue generated by an increase in the cigarette tax.

Groups that took part in today’s event included:

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