County joins coalition in seeking cigarette taxing authority

Pulaski County will take yet another crack at getting the Virginia General Assembly to allow for cigarettes to be taxed in the county.

The county’s Board of Supervisors on Monday night voted 4-1 to approve a resolution in support of the legislature granting all counties in Virginia the authority to allow voters to decide whether or not cigarettes would be taxed.

Only Robinson District Supervisor Charlie Bopp voted against the proposed resolution.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet noted this latest attempt is actually about counties gaining taxation equitability with towns and cities and the two Northern Virginia counties of Arlington and Fairfax – all of which have the authority now to tax cigarettes.

Introducing the proposed resolution to the board, Sweet said a coalition of counties is forming to push the issue again in the upcoming legislative session. He said counties in this region form the nucleus of this new coalition, and they include Pulaski, Montgomery, Carroll, Giles, Floyd, Botetourt, Wythe, Smyth and Washington counties.

Sweet said the resolution is asking the General Assembly to give Pulaski County and 92 other counties in Virginia – aside from Arlington and Fairfax – the authority to seek citizen approval of a tax on cigarettes.

Sweet said that if the legislature approves giving all counties such authority, then the local Board of Supervisors would have to take up the issue if it chooses. A majority of the five-member board would have to approve placing a question on the ballot. It would then be up to Pulaski County citizens to vote whether or not to approve a cigarette tax. The tax would be imposed if a majority of citizens vote in favor.

In past failed attempts to gain authority to tax cigarettes and other tobacco products, members of the legislature have opposed proposals out of fear citizens would see them as being to blame for raising taxes.

This latest attempt would put the final decision of whether or not to tax cigarettes in the hands of the voters, so it may stand a better chance at passage in the legislature.

Sweet said counties in Virginia have the same needs as cities when it comes to financing public schools, law enforcement, libraries, parks and recreation and more.

“We have the same challenges as Fairfax and Arlington, the same as the City of Richmond,” Sweet said.

Cloyd District Supervisor Joe Guthrie noted that Pulaski County doesn’t have the same revenue stream for schools as does our neighbor, Radford City.

He noted even the Town of Pulaski would like to see the county gain the authority to tax cigarettes, which might stop some smokers from leaving the town limits to buy cigarettes in the county where they’re cheaper.