Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog
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.
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.”
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]
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