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National anti-tax figure lights up Omaha’s cigarette tax fight

By   /   September 13, 2012  /   11 Comments

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

Grover Norquist

The leader of the country’s anti-tax movement has jumped into Omaha’s fight over cigarette taxes—putting him alongside Governor Dave Heineman.

Nebraska Watchdog has learned that Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform—and the man behind the controversial Taxpayer Protection Pledge”—is asking each member of the Omaha City Council to “reject the proposed tax increase on cigarettes.”  The money would help fund a $370 million cancer research center.

Governor Dave Heineman

On Thursday Nebraska Watchdog first reported that Heineman is upset with the University of Nebraska’s decision to look for more public funds for the project which is expected to create 1,200 jobs and bring in $100 million a year.

In a “Dear Councilmember” letter dated September 10 Norquist writes “during this anemic economic recovery, the last thing our elected officials should look to do is raise taxes…a move that would only serve to discourage economic growth.”

Councilman Chris Jerram, who is pushing the cigarette tax, tells Nebraska Watchdog that Norquist has “insidious” ties to Big Tobacco.

According to the Boston Globe, the Philip Morris tobacco firm “gave Norquist $460,000 for what the company described as general support, though Norquist subsequently spoke out strongly against cigarette taxes and lawsuits against tobacco companies.”

Chris Jerram

Jerram’s plan would up the tax on cigarettes in Omaha by 35 cents a pack raising $35 million in ten years. Jerram says he has four co-sponsors—Councilmen Pete Festersen, Garry Gernandt, Ben Gray and Tom Mulligan—enough votes to put it on the books.

The tax will go before the council Tuesday. A public hearing is scheduled for September 25 with a final vote likely coming on October 2.  

Earlier this week Nebraska Watchdog first reported that mayoral hopeful Brad Ashford wants the council to slow down. Ashford, a state senator who says he supports the cancer center, voted in the Legislature to give the project $50 million in state funds.

Ashford and Heineman insist that the University indicated the rest of the project would be funded with private dollars.

In a statement to Nebraska Watchdog, NU President J.B. Milliken said the university planned to use “private and other sources.”

But in his monthly column in February Milliken wrote that in addition to the $50 million from the state “…we expect that the cancer center will be supported by some $200 million in private funds, plus $120 million in debt assumed by The Nebraska Medical Center.”

As for Big Tobacco’s role in all this, according to campaign finance records examined by Nebraska Watchdog since 2008 Ashford has received $1,500 in contributions from major cigarette companies.

Ashford tells Nebraska Watchdog he is not beholding to tobacco firms and notes he co-sponsored legislation to raise the cigarette tax in order to pay for health care.

Heineman received at least $1,000 from Big Tobacco in 2010.

Heineman and Ashford have also each received at least $500 in contributions from the law firm of Kelly and Jerram, Chris Jerram’s law firm.

Contact Joe Jordan at [email protected]

Editor’s note: To subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.






Joe formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Nebraska Tea Party Patriots

    The more that the University of Nebraska gets, the more it wants. First it began feeding, consuming all the communities around it, now it is beginning to feed on the state overall. It appears to be out of control. Learning from the NEA teaches only one direction.

  • Everybody mentions everything except the obvious,Tobacco Blackmarkets spring up anywhere excessive tobacco taxes pop up. As weve seen in many places tobacco control somehow gets control of these new funding sources and steals the money for its own directed uses. In texas the 3 billion dollar cancer fund was taken over by tobacco control and forced texas a&m to impose a campus wide tobacco ban if they wanted to recieve up to 200 million in future grants! Its like this anywhere including in Calif on PROP 29 that failed. The tobacco control groups were going to use it as a billion dollar slush fund to refinance their defunded state groups nationwide!

    In effect we can simply say if it has cancer on it anywhere it simply means tobacco control owns it,ie ACS!

  • RIP to the Tea Party

    To the Nebraska Tea Party patriots: This is what happens when you speak without knowing — you come off looking like an idiot. There is no connection between the University and the NEA; UNL faculty and UNMC faculty are not union.
    Further, spending on university projects spurs the economy, brings in tax dollars, adds to sales tax revenues, puts money into local businesses, educates the kids who will someday monitor your health as you lie in a hospital bed or nursing home. We have a fine university system. We cannot let it stagnate.

  • Roger Yant

    The University needs to be told NO!!!! They wield way to much power in the state, more so in Lincoln. This tax is stupid, can you say black-markets? I think I see a new business here. Go for it Omaha, how dumb do you think the taxpayer are. Take some of that $1.6 billion you have in the foundation if this is so big, and then pay the foundation back over time. Sounds to easy, I forgot logic and common sense don’t come into call when you guys think.

  • D. Mark

    Will bring in 1,200 jobs and $100 million, sure sounds good. That is fine but not on the sweat of the taxpayers! Poor old smokers!

  • ToucheTurtle

    NOBODY said UNL faculty and UNMC faculty ARE union. What was said is that UNL faculty and UNMC are “LEARNING FROM” the NEA. BIG difference!!!

    Perhaps it is YOU who need to think about just who is the “idiot” here!!!!! Learning how to read is taught in Kindergarten and First Grade . . . YOU need to learn to read AND understand before you can become proficient at writing an appropriate response!!!

    All your supposed pluses from having this facility are a moot point if there isn’t money to pay for building it!!! FIRST, there needs to be a viable plan to get the PRIVATE donations as AGREED. . . THEN comes the rest!!! DUH!!!!

    Have a great day . . . don’t get “stagnate!”

  • Pat Boyle

    I only shake my head at the govenor for alliagning himself with a Washington lobbyist, especailly someone as creepy as Norquist. This speaks volumes about Heinman’s continued lack of leadership. He’s a johhny come lately when it comes to taxpayer issues. Does he even talk to people that doe business in Nebraska or does he just skip the meetings or worse, doesn’t ask the right questions?

  • jazzee

    hey Jerram how about a special tax for lawyers–name a part of the building for ALL YOU generous Omaha lawyers–or a bike tax??? for all the greenies??? just sayin’

  • jazzee

    black market sounds good to me

  • jazzee

    none of that matters but to once again target smokers (and no I don’t smoke) when you say this will benefit everyone…well then let everyone pay for it. Or as I told councilman jerram do a special lawyer tax,..since they are so generous with their mouths oops money….how about that? they can name a wing after them

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    It is past time that Grover Norquist crawl back into whichever Koch brother rectum he fell out of.