In July, South Carolina will no longer have the lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax of seven cents. After the state Senate’s Thursday vote to clinch the override of the Governor’s veto of the 50-cent cigarette tax increase, organizations that supported the measure celebrated, including AARP South Carolina.
The tax increase will provide nearly $125 million for Medicaid programs. AARP South Carolina Legislative Director Teresa Arnold calls Thursday a day of victory for the state’s citizens. “I told all our legislative volunteers that is the win of the decade for us in South Carolina. It caps off other huge advances in health care that passed at the national level.”
Arnold says the House’s and Senate’s votes to override the Governor’s veto followed the will of the people of South Carolina.
Arnold says about a third of the state’s Medicaid budget, approximately $300 million dollars, goes to nursing home care and related services, and it is important that the level of funding be maintained and enhanced.
When the Medicaid program is sinking do to lack of funding, it’s going to directly affect both nursing home and the services that help the elderly stay in their homes. Those services are know as community longterm care, which are home based services that help people stay in their homes and avoid going to nursing homes. Both of those programs would have been in a lot of jeopardy.
Arnold says Medicaid funds services to take care of South Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens–not just the elderly, but children and the disabled as well.
Tax proponents questioned whether there were enough votes in the House to override the Governor’s veto, but Arnold said she also sweated out Thursday’s vote in the Senate:
We were stunned to hear that we may not have the votes in the Senate. That was the rumor flying around Wednesday afternoon and we thought that is where we felt safe. We, in fact, were scrambling up until the last minute. I was calling volunteers in targeted districts saying ‘please call your senator right now.’ I was also talking to senators. I was telling them that I would give them a big “thank you” on our e-alert system, I’lll put quotes out there. We were working it right up to the last possible minute.
The state cigarette tax was last raised in 1977. Recalling her days as a budget analyst with the SC House Ways and Means Committee beginning in the mid 90s, Arnold says raising the cigarette tax was being heavily considered by then: “I was given files from where I believe Marion Carnell tried to get the cigarette tax raised back in the early 90’s to help Medicaid in the state budget.”
Speaking through a brief laugh and a satisfied smile Arnold says, “It has been a long battle.”