Legislators begin cigarette tax increase debate

Columbia, SC - COLUMBIA, SC (AP) - South Carolina lawmakers are beginning discussions on raising the nation's lowest cigarette tax.

Debate started Wednesday in the Senate on a House-approved measure to increase the current rate of 7 cents a pack.

By a 97-22 vote last year, the House pass a 50-cent increase that would generate $139 million for a new health insurance program for low-income workers.

The Senate's version of the increase doesn't spend the money on that health care plan. Instead, supporters want nearly all the money set aside and used to help cover shortfalls next year in the state's Medicaid budget.

Beyond that, they want to have enough money to cover rising Medicaid program costs expected under the new federal health care law.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.