- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Cigarette smokers in Minnesota would catch a break if Gov. Mark Dayton signs into law a tax package that includes a provision rolling back automatic hikes in the state’s tobacco tax.

That provision took effect in 2013 when the DFL-controlled Legislature hiked the cigarette tax by $1.60 a pack and included the automatic yearly increase in Minnesota’s per-pack tobacco tax, the Star Tribune reported (http://strib.mn/25kTRPG ).

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House were sought to undo that this year in the larger tax bill, which Dayton said was tucked in without his knowledge

“What we did was said, this thing is on autopilot. It’s out of control,” said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, chairman of the House Taxes Committee. “Let’s put a pause on it.”

Under state law, Dayton could only strike down the new provision by vetoing the entire tax bill.

“I can’t comprehend why that would be considered good public policy,” Dayton said, calling it “very, very distressing.”

But Dayton signed DFL-controlled Legislature’s yearly increases into law three years ago, which also included an inflationary formula for determining subsequent yearly increases. Before that measure, Minnesota’s taxes and fees on a pack of cigarettes totaled about $1.25 a pack. On Jan. 1 of this year, increases in the state’s excise and wholesale taxes on cigarettes had brought the total levied per pack to $3.50, and without the repeal it would rise again Jan. 1, 2017.

Supporters of scrapping the yearly increases point out that the larger tax bill passed with strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt argued that tobacco taxes fall hardest on people with lower incomes.

“This is the most regressive tax you could put on Minnesotans. It affects the poorest Minnesotans the most,” Daudt said. He also argued that automatic inflationary increases are poor public policy: “It’s giving away our legislative prerogative.”

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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