Days remaining in session: 24

Cigarette tax and other taxes: A bill that would add $2 to the price of a pack of cigarettes received its first hearing Tuesday before the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee. But the committee took no action and held Senate Bill 197 as part of an effort to have a larger discussion on all legislation involving taxes. “They want to corral all these bills together that will have implications on revenue and taxes … and look at them as a whole,” said Chris Nordstrom, a spokesman for Senate Democrats. The hope, he added, is to develop an omnibus tax package with details on each proposal.

The cigarette tax bill, sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, proposes to increase the excise tax rate for cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as e-liquids and closed system cartridges for electronic cigarettes. The bill, for example, would raise the excise taxes on each cigarette from 10 cents to 20 cents. “This will make the total tax on a package of cigarettes $4,” said Linda Siegle, a consultant representing the American Cancer Society. The tax went up by $1.66 in 2010 and by 34 cents in 2019, she said.

“We are interested in driving good public health policy by increasing these taxes,” Siegle said.

The bill also would increase the tax for other tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, from 25 percent to 83 percent, for e-cigarettes from 12.5 percent to 83 percent, and for closed system cartridges from 50 cents to $3.32 per unit. The tax on cigars would stay the same.

While the proposed tax increases on other tobacco products and e-cigarettes sounds big, Siegle said, “the reality is that if you increase the price of cigarettes and you don’t increase the price of these other tobacco products by a similar amount, you will drive people to those cheaper products. … So this makes all the other tobacco products except cigars comparable to the price of a package of cigarettes.”

Fine arts funding: Members of the House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee unanimously voted to support a bill that will increase the fine arts factor in the per-student funding formula from 0.050 to 0.054. It’s a move that the bill’s sponsor — Rep. Roger Montoya, an Española Democrat and longtime performance artist — says will increase funding for public schools that have arts programs. The bill’s fiscal impact report says about 160,000 students in the state are generating fine arts program units to the tune of $36.4 million. The report estimates the increase in the fine arts factor would lead to the need for another $2.9 million in public school funding.

Montoya told the members of the committee few people question why arts programs are important. The challenge, he said, is to explain “how” the state can fund it. The bill next goes to the House of Representatives for a full vote of the 70-member body.

Healthy food financing: The Economic Development Department would make low-interest grants and loans available to invest in healthy food businesses under a bill that cleared the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on a 10-0 vote Tuesday. The purpose of Senate Bill 229 is to support projects that would increase the availability of healthy foods throughout the state with a focus on underserved, low- to moderate-income communities. The bill would appropriate $200,000 as a recurring expense to the general fund to hire three full-time employees to oversee the program. “We’re going to help our communities, especially communities of color, get the financing they need so they can support their families, have healthy food to eat and support job creation,” one of the sponsors, Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, said in a statement.

Quotes of the day: “It’s going to be cannabis day, and I understand Tallman is driving his Cheech and Chong van up.” — Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, joked, referring to Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque. The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee is set to consider all four cannabis bills Saturday.

“For anyone watching from home, we are not having an earthquake at the Capitol.” — House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, after Rep. Joshua Hernandez, R-Rio Rancho, began fiddling around with his computer screen on the House floor, momentarily blurring the action and creating a shaking motion for those watching the proceedings online.

The New Mexican

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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