Judge rejects bid to block vote on Oregon cigarette tax


A proposal to increase the cigarette tax to pay for children's health insurance will remain on Oregon's fall ballot.

A Marion County judge rejected arguments that Measure 50 violates the state constitution. If approved by voters in November, the cigarette tax would jump by 84.5 cents a pack. It would raise an estimated $153 million for the current two-year budget, with most of the money going toward health insurance for 100,000 Oregon children.

A lawsuit filed late last month argued that the measure makes three "unrelated" changes to the constitution with separate taxes on cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products such as smokeless tobacco.

The suit filed by Portland lawyer James Dumas on behalf of state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, and a group of tobacco users and retailers also said the Legislature dodged a requirement that tax increases win three-fifths majorities in the Legislature.

But Judge Paul Lipscomb rejected their arguments, saying the challenge failed on each of its claims.

Neither Dumas nor Kruse could be located for late Monday. Larry Larson, the owner of the Rainier-based Bridgview Tobacco Shop, one of the retailers that joined the suit, was understandably disappointed with the ruling.

Measure 50 asks voters to write the tax increase into the state constitution, and Larson said that's what bothers him most about the proposal. He said it sets a dangerous precedent and other products could eventually get the same treatment.

"It's seems like a funny way to raise tobacco taxes," he said. "What's next?"

The Democrat-controlled Legislature placed the tax on the Nov. 6 ballot as a constitutional amendment because it couldn't attract enough Republican votes to enact it outright.

Cathy Kaufman, a spokeswoman for Healthy Kids Oregon, a group that is advocating for the tax increase, said she expected tobacco interests to try to keep the issue from reaching voters.

"Tobacco tried to keep it off the ballot because they know Oregonians are going to protect their kids instead of (tobacco) profits."

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