Gov. Gary Herbert indicated Thursday he almost certainly will not use his veto pen to block a $1 per pack increase in Utah's tobacco tax, saying to do so would undermine his efforts to protect public education.
"Politics is the art of compromise," Herbert said Thursday in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune . "Public education is my No. 1 priority. Am I going to come down on the side of education or am I going to veto the tobacco tax? I can't do both."
The Legislature has built the $44 million in anticipated tobacco tax revenue into the budget, and Herbert said a veto would undo that balance. While he said he won't take action on the tobacco tax until the final budget is passed, but if his budget agreement with the Legislature holds, he will sign the bill or let it become law without his signature.
Since taking office, Herbert has espoused a firm no-new-taxes stance, including the tobacco tax. He argued that raising taxes during a fragile economy would slow the recovery and be unwise.
But on Thursday he said he expects the impact of the tobacco tax on the recovery would be limited because the scope of the tax is limited.
Herbert has until March 31 to take action on the bill. If he does nothing, it becomes law without his signature.
"Early on we had our doubts that he would sign the bill," said Michael Siler, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. "But we're pleased that he ultimately was able to realize that there are significant win-win advantages to increasing the tobacco tax, partly the fiscal effects of passing the tax, but more importantly are the health benefits ... and from deterring kids from using tobacco."