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Cigarette Tax Initiative Launched to Lower College Tuition

A campaign to tax cigarettes more in order to lower college tuition costs in Idaho launches today. Credit:
A campaign to tax cigarettes more in order to lower college tuition costs in Idaho launches today. Credit:
November 24, 2015

BOISE, Idaho - A group calling itself Stop Tuition launches a petition drive today to put a measure on the ballot that would raise Idaho cigarette taxes $1.25 a pack, and use the money to send more kids to college.

Supporters of the initiative note that tuition rates have soared in recent years as Idaho has chopped funds for higher education.

Bill Moran, founder of the campaign, says that's the main reason why just 10 percent of Idaho high school students graduate from college.

"Tuition has increased in Idaho; it's roughly tripled since 2000," says Moran. "In Idaho, five out of 10 students won't go to college at all, with high costs being the primary cause cited by students for not going."

The proposal would also raise taxes on tobacco-related products by 12 percent and then, establish an across-the-board scholarship for all in-state undergraduate students, effectively lowering tuition by 22 percent.

It would also give $7 million a year to the community college system, and another $7 million to tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

Moran says Idaho college graduates leave school with an average of $60,000 in debt, which brings down the whole economy.

"Two-thirds of our student debt has been accumulated in the past seven years," says Moran. "And so, who's going to buy houses, who's going to buy cars, who's going to start businesses? How is any of this going to function? Everybody thinks this is a student issue, and it is really an 'everybody' issue."

He says the group tied the initiative to a tobacco tax because smoking-related illness is a major cost driver in health spending, a factor that also has increased in recent years at the expense of education funding.

The group now needs more than 47,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot next November. The campaign's kickoff event is tonight (Tues., Nov. 24) at 6 p.m. at Dawson Taylor Coffee, 219 N. 8th Street, Boise.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ID