The effort to improve Montana health care by raising tobacco taxes has ignited the most expensive ballot initiative campaign in the state’s history. It’s a lopsided spending contest.
Big Tobacco has poured more than $12.3 million into a campaign to defeat the Initiative 185 on the Nov. 6 ballot. About $12 million of that money — loans, cash and in-kind support — has come from Altria Client Services, a Washington, D.C., entity that represents Philip Morris USA. Reynolds American Inc. contributed a quarter million dollars. The tobacco companies are bankrolling a political committee named “Montanans Against Tax Hikes — No on I-185.”
What about the other side? Who is funding Healthy Montana for I-185?
Contributors of cash or in-kind donations include committees formed by: AARP Montana, American Cancer Society Action Network, Benefis Health Systems of Great Falls, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, Montana Medical Association, Montana Budget and Policy Center, Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Primary Care Association, Montana Women Vote, Providence St. Patrick Hospital, SCL Health Montana (which operates St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, St. James in Butte and Holy Rosary in Miles City), Tobacco Free Kids Action Fund, Montana public employee and caregiver unions.
The largest Healthy Montana contributor is the Montana Hospital Association’s incidental political committee with $3.5 million. In September, the MHA committee received donations from 11 Montana hospitals, including St. Vincent, Billings Clinic, St. Peter’s in Helena, Sheridan Memorial in Scobey, Shodair Children’s in Helena, Providence St. Patrick in Missoula, Northern Rockies in Cut Bank, Rosebud Health Care in Forsyth, Barrett Hospital in Dillon and Clark Fork Valley in Plains.
The leaders of these community health centers understand what’s at stake:
Of course, cigarette manufacturers want to prevent an increase in taxes on their products. I-185 proponents expect that the tax increase will decrease purchases of these products in Montana.
But the increased tax would still net about $74 million a year, according to the fiscal note prepared by the state budget office. That new revenue would be available to address Montana’s health and human service needs — many of which are related to tobacco use.
When you see those ubiquitous commercials, please remember:
If you want health care to be available to you and your neighbors when needed, vote for I-185. Don’t buy Big Tobacco’s misleading claims.
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.