Cuyahoga Arts and Culture Cigarette Tax Renewal May Land on Ballot: UPDATE

Another cigarette tax is likely to end up on a ballot this year, somewhat mirroring last year’s bout of Sin Tax Madness.

The Arts and Culture Action Committee, a political action committee (ACTION! COMMITTEE!) is hoping to land on the November 2015 ballot with a renewal on the 30-cent cigarette tax meant for Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The tax was originally approved by voters in 2006 by a 56-44 margin.

On one hand, the tax benefits some of the more visible and aesthetically important components of Cleveland’s budding brand. The arts, after all, built this city in one way or another. But the grant appropriations lean heavily toward already-very-well-established institutions ($1,232,694 for the Cleveland Museum of Art; $1,395,695 for Playhouse Square; $989,574 for the Rock Hall; vs. $33,779 for Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory and Educational Foundation; $14,583 for Ukrainian Museum Archives in 2015-2016).

This tax brings in some serious cash, to be clear.

And 10 years after the tax was initially approved, there’s certainly a very clear shift in how Northeast Ohio is portrayed and enjoyed — the arts are a FORCE. Fodor's in onboard! With that shift comes an inquiry, though: a decade into this tax, does, for instance, the Cleveland Museum of Art still need to be partially bankrolled by the county’s smokers?

Perhaps there’s merit to funding the smaller, more under-the-radar enterprises in Northeast Ohio, but we’re at a point economically in this county where regressive taxes for major, wealth-attracting institutions just aren’t as palatable. If Cleveland and its surrounding ‘burbs had the artistic clout and demand that tourism branding would otherwise insist, would there be a need for a cigarette tax?

Still, as we gaze out across the voter base, the 20-year sin tax renewal passed last year.

(There’s also the concern that CAC-funded organizations are ipso facto opposed to smoking cessation efforts. A lengthy Socratic dialogue could be built out of the assumption that Northeast Ohio’s choice arts offerings come at the expense of air quality and community health, etc. For another day.)

Tax renewal requests like this should spur many degrees of civic dialogue. And we'll be tracking that dialogue as it unfolds between now and a possible November ballot attempt. Based on past excise tax campaigns, though, well, smoke up, Johnny.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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