Audio: Measure 4 Opponent Says Cigarette Tax a Bad Way to Fund Veterans

David Johnson, a member of the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council, unloads boxes filled with petition signatures for the tobacco tax initiative measure at the Secretary of State's office in the state Capitol Thursday morning in Bismarck. On the left is Kristie Wolff, with the American Lung Association in North Dakota and representing the Raise It for Health North Dakota group, is helped by LeAnn Oliver with the Secretary of State's office. Bismarck Tribune photo.

One of the selling points of Measure 4 on the November ballot, which would hike taxes on cigarettes in North Dakota by 400 percent, is that some of the funding would go to veterans.

In fact, per the fiscal impact statement for Measure 4 released by the Secretary of State’s office, if passed the measure would send “$86.9 million to the veterans’ tobacco tax trust fund” starting 30 days after election day through June 30 of 2019. That fund is also a creation of the ballot measure.

That dollar amount presumes that this massive shift in tax policy doesn’t change the behavior of tobacco shoppers. Revenue could be less if smokers stop smoking or purchase their cigarettes in a different taxing jurisdiction or avoid the tax illegally in some way. There is no question that this sort of massive change in tax policy can have unforeseen ramifications.

But all that aside, is it wise to fund veterans with tax revenues from a product the state also wants people to stop using?

“We should all be paying that tax” to help the veterans, he told me.

Mike Rud of the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association told me in an interview yesterday that it is not. He said that tying funding for veterans programs to smokers is a bad idea.

“We should all be paying that tax” to help the veterans, he told me.

Rud is heading up North Dakotans Against the 400% Tax Increase, a group supporters of the measure say is funded by “big tobacco.” Rud acknowledged this, and said he’s glad of it. He said the tobacco industry has been members in his group for years.

“I’m glad they’re standing up and helping,” he said.

Rud also blasted the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control – the state’s anti-tobacco agency which you know as BreatheND – for sitting on some $55 million in their coffers. He said that if tobacco prevention is such a priority that money should be used on anti-smoking programs.

“You’ve got $55 million you can use already,” he said.

According to the Office of Management and Budget’s appropriations book for the 2015-2017 biennium, BreatheND is projected to have a more than $56 million ending balance.

Here’s the full audio of Rud’s interview on my radio show yesterday. I attempted to schedule the folks from Raise it for Health ND on the show too – they’re the sponsoring committee for the measure – but they declined.

Tune in today from 1-2pm on 970 AM WDAY as I’ll have Cass County States Attorney Birch Burdick on to talk about Measure 3, or Marsy’s Law.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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