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Cuyahoga Cigarette Tax for the Arts Passes By Three-to-One Margin

Issue 8 campaign advisor Thomas Schorgl crafted a costume for the election watch

by David C. Barnett

Cuyahoga County voters gave the nod to a ten-year renewal of a cigarette tax to fund the arts, yesterday. 


"What a great night for arts and culture," said Karen Gahl-Mills, CEO and Executive Director of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

She was received by an enthusiastic crowd of Issue 8 supporters who filled the first floor gallery of the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art, Tuesday night.

Strategist Jeff Rusnak ran both this campaign and the original one in 2006 that asked voters to approve a 30-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes to provide a regular source of funding for artists and arts organizations.  Rusnak said off-year elections can be tough, because voter turn-out is generally lower and it's harder to rally the faithful to the polls.  But, he says that problem vanished as the vote tally rolled in.  

"It's basically a 20-point increase from 2006," he said.

According to Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, over $125-million-dollars in cigarette tax revenues were redistributed to the local arts community, over the past decade.   As the evening was winding down, Karen Gahl-Mills acknowledged that arts support based on a cigarette tax was not a long-term solution.  But, she said her first priority was to express her gratitude for the passage of Issue 8.

"And with that behind us, then we need to have some good conversations with lots of people in the community about what's on their mind and how arts and culture can help deal with community questions, and how we continue to fund it, going forward."

And now, they've got the cushion of  at least ten more years to figure that out. 

*** NOTE: ideastream benefits from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture ***

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.