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Cuyahoga Arts & Culture resolves to place cigarette tax increase on November ballot

Cartons of Marlboro cigarettes on the shelf
Gerry Broome
The proposed tax increase would mean a tax of 3.5-cents per cigarette in Cuyahoga County.

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture has taken its first step toward increasing the county cigarette tax from 30-cents-per-pack to 70 cents.

At a special meeting Monday, the board approved a resolution asking County Council to place an expansion of the tax on the November 2024 ballot. The new amount is estimated to generate about $160 million over the next decade.

The 70-cent figure was decided after extensive research, according to Jeff Rusnak of R Strategy Group.

"The voters really respect and admire our arts and cultural sector," he said. "They have invested in it for nearly two decades and that has paid off. Three-and-a-half cents per cigarette is a small ask that produces really big impact."

CAC was created in 2007 to distribute proceeds from the tax to local arts organizations and artists. This year, revenue is off by nearly 24%. Since its inception, overall revenue has fallen by half due to population loss and fewer people smoking. The tax will expire in 2027 if it is not renewed.

Area arts leaders worked for several years to get permission from the state to expand the tax. A plan to tax vape products was rescinded last year. Over the past two decades, taxes have been proposed on video rentals, dine-in meals or alcohol. Those ideas were never officially presented to voters.

Consideration of other funding sources could be a discussion topic for the future, CAC CEO Jill Paulsen said, but right now she’s focused on the November ballot.

“And then we’ll work with our colleagues at Assembly for the Arts, who are charged with expanding the pie,” she said. “Finding additional and other sources be they statewide, public dollars, private dollars, looking at national funding — we definitely are focused, in our work with them, on trying to bring more money to the community.”

CAC has made more than 3,000 grants, totaling over $246 million in tax dollars, to more than 485 organizations since 2007, including Ideastream Public Media.

Pending approval by Cuyahoga County Council, the nonprofit PAC, Assembly for Action, will handle a campaign effort to pass the tax levy.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.