Smoke cost to go up?

Published 1:18 pm Saturday, March 31, 2012

A local pediatrician will be making a trip to Montgomery this week to plead with the House Ways and Means Committee for implementation a “safety net” for the state’s struggling Medicaid budget.

Marsha Raulerson, owner of Lower Alabama Pediatrics in Brewton, said a $1-per-pack user fee on cigarettes and other tobacco products would create enough revenue to help offset the shortfalls in Medicaid and All Kids funding.

“Opponents of the user fee say it is an unfair tax on the poor,” Raulerson said. “But, 21 percent of adults in Alabama smoke — many of these are not poor. The poor in Alabama are our children, with more than one in four children in our state living in poverty.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Raulerson said the user fee being proposed would raise more than $2 million in revenue, which would help fund the gap in funding services for our children.

“Our budget shortfall threatens to cut child care subsidies for working mothers, decrease mental health services for children and do away with our Child Abuse Prevention Program,” Raulerson said. “That program has been extremely successful in protecting our most vulnerable children. The shortfall we see limits the number of children receiving health care through All Kids and underfunds Medicaid, which now serves 465,504 children in our state.”

Raulerson said the budget woes are hurting more than the children who receive healthcare through Medicaid and All Kids.

“Medicaid is out of money,” Raulerson said. “My practice didn’t get paid this month. We need to do something. If Medicaid fails, the entire health care system in Alabama will fail.”

Raulerson said the tobacco user fee revenue could even be used for a stop smoking program statewide.

“Without our safety nets for children, our state will be shooting itself in the foot,” Raulerson said. “The user fee revenue could be designated first to a smoking cessation program for smokers in the state and the rest to support those program that support services and health care for our children.”

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has said the proposed bills in favor of imposing an increase in taxes on cigarettes would be a “tax on the poor” residents in the state.

Bentley also said he would not propose any tax increases for the General Fund, education or anything else.

“I did sign a no-tax pledge, and I expect to live up to my commitments,” he said.

Two bills have been proposed that would call for an increase in taxes on cigarettes — and other tobacco products — by as much as $1 per package.