Cigarette tax takes breather; 11th-hour passage awaits Patrick's OK.

Position:NEWS
 
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Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - State lawmakers and the governor's staff were scrambling last night to formally adopt a $1-per-pack cigarette tax hike, trying to get it signed into law hours before it was scheduled to go into effect at midnight.

A spokeswoman for the governor said last night, however, it appeared likely the governor would wait until today to sign the bill, which could push the effective date back a day.

The legislation is aimed at collecting $174 million in new cigarette taxes over the next year, which includes revenue from the additional $1 per pack on all cigarettes that are in store inventories when the law takes effect. It was separated from another tax bill stuck in conference committee and put before the House late yesterday afternoon, beginning an unusually rushed enactment process.

The bill was given initial approval in the House on a vote of 93-52 shortly after 3 p.m., sent to the Senate for quick approval on a 26-9 vote and then back to both chambers for final enactment votes last night before being sent to Gov. Deval L. Patrick.

Rebecca E. Deusser, spokeswoman for the governor, said he might not sign the bill last night. "He's inclined to sign the bill. He wants to look at the legislation first and he could sign it as soon as tomorrow," she said, referring to today.

Many critics said passage of the tax law hours before it was to take effect was unfair to retailers who have had no notice the additional tax may have been suddenly imposed last night. The law gives retailers 20 days to pay the additional new tax on all cigarette inventories on hand when it takes effect.

"This is outrageous," said Viriato M. deMacedo, R-Plymouth, who joined a chorus of Republicans and a few Democrats in criticizing the last-minute rush and late notice to retailers.

"It is almost 3 o'clock right now. By the time we pass this law it will be maybe 3:30 and the Senate may pass it by 5 o'clock, so it will end up on the governor's desk at maybe 7 o'clock to go into effect at midnight tonight," Mr. deMacedo said.

"There are thousands of small-business owners that have absolutely no idea what is taking place here today" and will run the risk of penalties and fines for violations, Mr. deMacedo said.

The wording that legally binds retailers to pay the tax on all cigarettes sold after the effective date was included in the initial tax bill proposal that was widely publicized last month. But without being adopted, state agencies were not in a...

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