Bills to give cigarette taxing power to counties defeated in VA House, Senate

PULASKI COUNTY, Va. – Two bills that would have made it easier for counties to create cigarette taxes are dead this session. 

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bill Carrico and Delegate Jeffrey Campbell, would have given equal taxation power to all counties in the Commonwealth. Right now, only two counties in the commonwealth, Fairfax and Arlington, have the power to propose a tax on cigarettes. 

"Very disappointed to hear that, however, we're still optimistic," said Jonathan Sweet, Pulaski County administrator.

Pulaski County, along other southwest counties like Wythe and Montgomery, banded together ahead of this session to encourage lawmakers to put the power in all counties hands. If passed, the bills would have allowed counties to take a cigarette tax to the people on a referendum. In Pulaski County, that new money would have been a game changer.

"Not only public education, but libraries, law enforcement, fire and rescue, all the community needs. This is a new revenue stream that could have been dedicated to a noble cause," Sweet said.

Despite the defeat, the coalition of counties are still pushing forward. 

"We're looking to keep the band together, the coalition together and really try to get more momentum going into the next legislative session," Sweet said.

This year, they sent a lobbyist to the capitol to fight for them and next year, with more lobbying and momentum, they hope to show that taxing power could help rural counties survive and thrive.

"The hope moving forward is that the legislature really understands the challenges that rural Virginia has and the need to generate revenues like this, which we think are fair revenues," Sweet said.

The bills were continued until 2019, meaning they can be revisited next session.