OMAHA—When voters go to the polls next spring they’ll pick a mayor and city council, what they apparently won’t do is vote for or against a new cigarette tax.
With the tax chopped down to 15-cents per pack, both sides agree a ballot fight is now unlikely.
On Tuesday the city council OK’d the tax by a vote of 5-2, paving the way for the city to provide approximately $35 million over 10 years toward a $370 million cancer research center.
Last week following an exclusive Nebraska Watchdog report questioning the size of the tax, initially it was 35-cents per pack, the city went to a cheaper brand—23-cents.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote it was cut again, down to 15-cents, as proponents apparently looked to avoid a vote of the people.
According to a recently passed state law (LB745), Omaha cannot impose any new occupation tax (the cigarette tax comes under that heading) that raises more than $6 million a year without voter approval.
Even when the tax was cut from 35-cents to 23 there was speculation Omaha could still exceed that $6 million mark.
But at 15-cents per pack—selling an estimated 29 million packs of cigarettes in Omaha next year—the city will bring in approximately $4.5 million dollars.
That’s low enough to keep the tax issue off next spring’s city ballot, the same ballot which will find Mayor Jim Suttle and several members of the city council facing reelection.
Those voting for the tax were four Democrats—Pete Festersen, Garry Gernandt, Ben Gray and Chris Jerram—and one Republican, Council President Tom Mulligan.
Republicans Franklin Thompson and Jean Stothert voted against the tax.
Stothert is running for mayor.
Contact Joe Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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