Ex-Gov. Gregoire leading cigarette-tax initiative

SEATTLE — Former Gov. Chris Gregoire is leading an initiative campaign that might ask Washington voters next fall to raise the cigarette tax by $1 a pack to pay for cancer research and prevention.

Gregoire, a breast-cancer survivor who negotiated a national settlement with tobacco companies as state attorney general in 1998, is chairing the campaign for Initiative 1356, The Seattle Times reported Thursday.

Supporters will decide within a couple of weeks whether to push the measure this year, spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said. To qualify for the November ballot, they would have to submit more than 246,000 signatures by July 3.

Washington’s current tax of $3.03 per pack is already one of the highest in the nation.

Backers estimate the tax increase could generate up to $1 billion over a decade.

To raise cash up front, the state would sell bonds against that tax revenue and direct 60 percent to research, 20 percent to prevention, 15 percent to treatment and 5 percent to administrative costs.

State Treasurer Jim McIntire said he is concerned about the borrowing and effect on the budget.

“It would use debt to finance operating expenditures, which is contrary to state financial policy,” he said.

The measure also could crimp the state’s general fund, which receives cigarette-tax money, if higher prices cause revenue to drop, McIntire warned. “My concern is that there is an impact on the general fund that is not insignificant,” he said.

The proposal also likely would face opposition from the tobacco industry.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital each have pledged $500,000 to the initiative campaign, according to a report filed this week with the state Public Disclosure Commission. Gregoire joined the Hutchinson board last year.

Washington last raised the cigarette tax by $1 in 2010. The state collected $450 million in tobacco and cigarette taxes last fiscal year, down from $471 million in 2012.

Cigarette taxes in neighboring states are much lower [—] $1.31 a pack in Oregon and just 57 cents in Idaho.

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