COLUMBIA -- Lawmakers breathed new life into a 50-cent increase in the state's cigarette tax late Wednesday by stripping out pet projects added by some senators and devoting most of the money it would raise to future health care obligations.
The Senate voted 32-12 to give the bill final approval, a move that gained more support and improved the chances that the increase will survive an expected veto by Gov. Mark Sanford.
The legislation now goes to the House, where Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said he will push for its approval.
"In my view, we are going to have a cigarette tax increase," Limehouse said. "The only question mark is going to be how much and where is the money going."
South Carolina's cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation and has not been increased since 1977.
The House recently approved a 30-cent increase. The two bodies will have to work out any differences in a plan to increase the cigarette tax before the legislation goes to the governor.
The Senate needs 31 votes to override a gubernatorial veto. In the House, it takes 83 votes.
The Senate-approved bill would raise the tax by 50 cents to 57 cents a pack and is expected to generate $136.1 million, most of which would go to cover the state's Medicaid obligations in the 2011-12 state budget.
In addition to money for Medicaid, the Senate agreed to each year send $5 million to the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina for lung cancer research and another $5 million toward helping people quit smoking and stop them from starting.
The latest version of the bill strips out $2.7 million for promotion of South Carolina's agricultural products and $3.5 million toward an infrastructure grant program for the state's Interstate 95 corridor.
The bill got into trouble when the Senate voted March 31 to give the cigarette tax increase the second of three votes needed to approve it and added in new spending obligations for the I-95 infrastructure improvements and the marketing of South Carolina-grown crops.
Summerville Republican Mike Rose was one of the senators who originally voted against the tax because of the new spending. He said some senators voted to approve the extra spending as a "poison pill" to hurt the chances of the increase becoming law.
Rose voted in support of the tax Wednesday after the changes were made.
"I am for a 50-cent increase with all the money being spent for health care," Rose said earlier Wednesday. "What I am not for is raising a cigarette tax with millions of the money going for expenditures that have nothing to do with health."
After a full day of session Wednesday, the Senate reached a compromise by using money from a tobacco lawsuit settlement to annually direct $3 million to go to I-95 improvements and $1 million to the Department of Agriculture marketing, when the money is available.
The infrastructure grant would require a 2-to-1 match from the local community.
Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855 or email@example.com.