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Cuyahoga County Sin Tax Backer Says Kasich’s Proposed Tobacco Tax Won’t Get in the Way of Campaign

Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 9:34 AM

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Photo by Fried Dough on Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/42787780@N04/6447396935/

Gov. John Kasich is proposing a 60-cent hike in the state tax on cigarettes, as part of a plan to pay for an income tax cut. ideastream's Nick Castele checked to see how this would play with supporters and foes of the local push to extend a county tax on cigarettes and alcohol that funds sports stadiums.

There are a lot of differences between the governor’s proposal and the local sin tax. Kasich wants to raise the existing tobacco tax by 48 percent, which would bring it to $1.85 a pack. It would need approval by the state legislature.

The local sin tax on tobacco is much smaller—only a few cents per pack. And it’s a 20-year extension of a tax already on the books, and it also includes alcohol. Cuyahoga County voters will decide on it in May.

Plus, there’s a 30-cent cigarette tax that funds arts groups in the county—including ideastream.

Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins isn’t opposed to the sin tax, but he warns governments should be careful about relying too heavily on it.

“I would say two words: tax fatigue,” Cummins said.

Jeff Rusnak with R Strategy Group helps run the campaign to renew the local sin tax. He says he doesn’t think he’ll have more trouble selling it if smokers have to pay more to the state.

“I don’t think anybody could predict what the state of Ohio would be doing,” Rusnak said. “But…(at) the end of the day, we are going to make sure that the voters are educated on the many benefits that came from our sports facilities here that are publicly owned.”

Peter Pattakos is part of a group of sin tax opponents. He argues both state and local cigarette taxes are more likely to hit lower-income Ohioans.

“I think this gets to a general political climate where it seems acceptable to prey on society’s weakest,” Pattakos said.

One of a few differences, he says, is that a higher tax on cigarettes might be more likely than a low one to discourage smoking. 

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