January 29th, 2010 5:33 pm | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Multnomah County, Legislature

Multnomah County Pushes Oregon Lawmakers For Local Cigarette Tax

The Smoke Shack

When the Legislature convenes for a special session next week, one of the bills with greatest potential local impact is Senate Bill 1042 [PDF]. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), would allow individual counties to impose cigarette taxes.

Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, the county's point person on the proposed tax, says the bill is a top legislative priority for the county in February.

Kafoury says imposing a local tax has the unanimous support of the county commission. "We are considering 20 to 25 cents a pack," Kafoury says. "That would raise $7 to $9 million per year."

A similar bill returning local control to counties passed the Oregon House in the 2009 session but died in the Senate. Kafoury says Senate Revenue chair Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) has said she will give the bill a hearing next month.

If the bill passes both houses in February, the county could impose the tax by a simple majority vote and without asking voters to weigh in. Kafoury says she thinks local voters support taxing tobacco. In 2007, Multnomah County was the only county that supported Measure 50, which would have raised the price of a pack of cigarettes by 85 cents per pack, more than three times what the county proposes.

Although the proposed 2007 cigarette tax got demolished state-wide by at 59 percent to 41 percent margin, elections records show that 57 percent of Multnomah County residents voted "Yes." Kafoury notes that Multnomah County is about to embark on cutting its budget, which will be mark the 10th year consecutive year of cuts.

"We are just starting on our budget process. The thought of having to make cuts is pretty scary," Kafoury says. "We are in a crisis at Multnomah County."

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