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Arts advocates seek to expand Cuyahoga County cigarette tax in 2022

Parade the Circle puppet on display at the Pivot Center in Cleveland. [David C. Barnett / Ideastream Public Media]
Parade the Circle puppet on display at the Pivot Center in Cleveland

As revenues from the Cuyahoga County cigarette tax for the arts continue to decline, local advocates are looking to expand the tax to include all tobacco products. An attempt to build that idea into the state budget failed this past summer, but a new effort is in the works for 2022.

Cigars, pipes and vape pens would be added to the cigarette tax. The ultimate goal is to put that idea in front of voters. Arts advocate Fred Bidwell said he’s working with a Cleveland-area lawmaker to get that process going.

With the support of Sen. Matt Dolan, we're in discussions about including legislation as part of the budget bill that happens this spring, that's our goal,” he said. “And if we're successful, we would have an issue campaign as early as this fall for the November ballot.”

But floating a ballot measure involves some strategic considerations. Bidwell noted that if there were competitive issues on the fall ballot that might diminish the chances for success, organizers could aim for another date.

“But it would have to be an extraordinary circumstance, in my opinion,” he said. “Last time we put this in front of the voters, it was approved by 75 percent. So, this is a popular measure. We just need legislation to allow us to bring it in front of the voters.”

Another goal is to extend a tobacco tax for the arts to other counties across the state.

“We'd love to see other counties be able to take advantage of this tax,” Bidwell said. “And I think there’s a political calculation that we could perhaps get more support in the Statehouse if other counties were able to weigh in and say, ‘Hey, we need this for our communities, too.’ Because let's face it, arts and culture have been damaged all across the state.”

But, the primary focus right now is on Cuyahoga County and trying to repair some of the local damage. When the idea of an arts tax was first floated here in a pre-pandemic world over 16 years ago, there was a different calculus.

“We thought this was about sustainability, not survivability. And that's the difference,” he said. “That has just totally changed.”

Ideastream Public Media receives support from Cuyahoga County’s cigarette tax.


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