Governor Steve Bullock is making stops in communities across the state to campaign on behalf of a tobacco tax ballot initiative. Monday he was in Billings to promote Initiative 185 that seeks to raising money for for Montana’s Medicaid-expansion program and remove the sunset that ends the program in June.
It’s estimated I-185 will generate about $74 million dollars a year by hiking the tax on cigarettes by $2 dollars a pack and increase the tax on other tobacco products. In addition there's a new tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products.
Bullock said the money raised would be used for health programs, including Medicaid expansion.
"It fully funds what the state has to pay. So the idea that there is some unfunded element out there is factually false," Bullock said.
It’s a reference to arguments by opponents that the amount raised falls short and would lead to an unfunded mandate.
There’s also the argument that the taxes collected will fall as this tobacco tax increase could deter – or cause people to quit - smoking, vaping or using smokeless tobacco.
Bullock said it's win-win because it could lower health costs for everyone, particularly those who will suffer from smoking-related illnesses, "because right now it’s about $800 per household that are paying, Montanans, in taxes to cover tobacco related illnesses. So I’m not too concerned in the short term all the folks will quit using tobacco. We’re just saying look they can pay their fair share of this along the way."
Bullock painted the campaign against I-185 as a struggle between out-of-state tobacco companies and lobbyists and Montanans. Two tobacco companies have spent nearly $10 million to defeat this initiative. Backers of I-185 claim they can’t match that level of spending.
The measure is on the November general election ballot. Absentee ballots are set to go out in the mail beginning October 12, 2018.