COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) – Superintendent of Education Jim Rex called on the state Senate Thursday to raise South Carolina's cigarette tax to the national average, saying a 30-cent-per-pack hike approved by the House is "woefully inadequate" for health care and education needs.
Rex proposed moving the tax from 7 cents to $1.34 per pack and splitting the increased revenues between public education and health care.
According to Rex, his proposal negates the need for school districts to furlough teachers and would add more than 20,000 health-care related jobs to the state's employment rolls.
The House spending plan would put its extra 30-cents-a-pack increase in a Medicaid reserve account, said Rex in a Thursday press release. He claimed the House budget would also mean schools would see a multi-million dollar reduction.
"Last night in the House, they said that funding public education at the 1995 level was not too low, but that putting our cigarette tax at the national average was too high," Rex said.
Rex said the personal and political objectives in the state were misaligned if lawmakers were unwilling to do what was necessary to save education.
"I'm asking the Senate to do what the House was either unwilling or unable to do – put the tax at the national average – index it there and keep it there once and for all," Rex said. "We cannot afford to wait another 30 years for the political will to address this issue."
Rex warned that the House spending measure means every South Carolina school district is going to suffer.
"The level of funding will mean thousands of teachers will lose their jobs and/or be furloughed, and we'll have only enough money to fund school buses for 122 days out of a 180-day school year," Rex said.
Rex said the House budget would create fiscal "carnage." He called his cigarette tax plan is a "no-brainer" because it benefits the state's two areas of greatest need – health care and public education.
"These are our two primary responsibilities to our fellow citizens," Rex said. "For the general well-being of our state – our economic well-being, our educational well-being and our health – this is something we need to do."
Rex outlined the following benefits under his cigarette tax plan:
- $1.3 billion saved in health care costs;
- Creation of up to 20,000 health care jobs;
- 66,000 fewer teens becoming addicted to smoking;
- 32,000 adults giving up smoking; and
- 27,000 fewer adults dying prematurely from smoking-related illness