Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saving the Convenience Store Empires

When a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee recently voted to kill Gov. Tim Kaine's effort to increase the tax on cigarettes from 30 cents (47th lowest in the country) to 60 cents a pack, becoming part of a national trend was avoided. Thank God! Virginia would not want to be part of anything progressive, health-oriented or revenue generating.

Cigarette makers made the strong and vital case that convenience store jobs would be threatened. Seems 30 percent of the total volume of convenience stores is cigarettes. I'd say beer is a likely second. Great industry, convenience stores.

The Centers for Disease Control says that smokers cost Virginia $2.2 billion a year, but our legislators are reluctant to charge that back because ... well, I don't know why, except for all those convenience store jobs.

A piece in the NYTimes this a.m. tells us that even Mississippi--last in everything, but first in the heart of rednecks everywhere Mississippi--is considering upping the ante on cigs. We'll not call it a tax increase, though. Gov. Haley Barbour (former head of the national GOP) wouldn't stand for that. He says it's a public health thingy ... but not a tax.

Seems that from 2003 to 2007 there were 57 state-level cigarette tax increases, enough for one in every state and a few leftover for the territories. But, alas, there is one disturbing possibility on the horizon: seems the Obama stimulus package is so generous to states that at least one, Georgia, is shelving a proposed $1 increase per pack (to $1.37) until it determines how far the federal money will go.

Those convenience store jobs are safe. At least for now.

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