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California's 2014 Election Will Bring Repeat of Tobacco Tax Wars

SACREMENTO, Calif. -- Six months after California voters went to the polls and voted down Proposition 29, a move to raise the state's tobacco excise tax has emerged once again.

An initiative called "The California Residents College Accessibility and Affordability Act of 2014" outlines was filed with the State of California Office of the Attorney General in late December. The move calls for an increase in the tobacco tax by $1 "to preserve and protect California's public university system, strengthen our state's economy, and ensure that California's high school graduates have the opportunity to lead the next wave of innovations."

A similar move to raise the state' tobacco tax by $1-per-pack of cigarettes and an equivalent hike on other tobacco products, known as Proposition 29, failed a close contest in the June 5, 2012 California primary. Prop 29 would have generated between $700 and $800 million in revenue earmarked to earmarked to travel several paths, one being cancer research and another, the general fund.

However, the slim margin of defeat (less than 30,000 votes), California's relatively low tobacco -- one of the lowest in the country -- and a change in where the extra revenue would be funneled -- have set the stage for a possible repeat showdown in 2014.

"I think the right measure going to the right revenue source is going to be the magic combination," Democratic strategist Jason Kinney told News 10. "And that's why I think so many people are looking at it."

Kinney is part of a group that includes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom that is currently backing the initiative. The initiative would funnel the money, which could be as much as $750 million in its first year, through the California Student Aid Commission. Its language says the tax revenue would be kept separate from the state's general fund and thus not siphoned off to other programs -- including the constitutional guarantee for K-12 schools and community colleges, the news outlet reported.

"There's no reason why the dream of college education should be out of reach for any hard working student in California," Kinney said.

However, if last year's efforts are any indication, the 2014 measure could expect to face opposition. Supporters of the Prop 29 increase were outspent by opponents -- including major tobacco companies, which spent more than $45 million to defeat the measure. In addition to tobacco companies, several media outlets across the state came out against the measure.

At this time, as News 10 pointed out, any move toward a tobacco tax increase in 2014 is still in its early stages.


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