New bill would keep tobacco tax revenue aimed at original target
SUMMIT COUNTY – A new House bill would keep tobacco tax revenue going where voters intended instead of helping bail out the state from its $181 million budget shortfall, an idea proposed by a few state officials.State Treasurer Mike Coffman and Rep. Michael Garcia, D-Aurora, argue that the revenue generated by the state’s new tobacco tax, Amendment 35, which was designed to help pay for medical costs associated with smoking, should help the growing budget shortfall.Representatives of the Healthier Colorado Coalition, which consists of anti-tobacco and health organizations, are fighting to ensure money generated from the new 64-cent tobacco sales tax, approved last November, gets where voters thought it would. Proponents sold the idea to voters by claiming the additional funds would help prevent future health issues related to smoking.Voters approved it by a 61 percent margin statewide and a 69 percent margin in Summit County.But two other proposals being debated in the Legislature could allocate that new tax revenue – estimated to be $172 million a year – to other budgets whose funding was cut during the recession.
One, proposed by Gov. Bill Owens, would use more than $40 million of the new revenue to set aside a rainy-day fund to offset future shortfalls in the state budget, said Lorez Meinhold, executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, which was instrumental in getting Amendment 35 passed.The other, proposed by Coffman, would use the funds to fill shortfalls in the budget, which is constrained by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.State Rep. Gary Lindstrom said HB 1262 sounds better than other alternatives.”It puts everyone on notice that that money’s supposed to go for certain purposes,” he said.The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, along with the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance, support this bill because it will provide immediate health care help to Colorado families, Meinhold said.”This is how we can keep families whole and healthy,” she said. “When you’re going through tough times, you like to think there’s a safety net out there.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at email@example.com.
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