November, 2001 Update – Status of State Campaigns
The Alliance for a Healthy Connecticut waged an aggressive campaign to elevate the profile of their tobacco tax/health access initiative. This included a 100,000 piece direct mailing to key legislative districts complemented by a phone baking effort that generated countless calls to legislators urging their support of the tax increase. During the last days of the session, the American Cancer Society bought a full-page ad in the Hartford Courant that included a call to action for the general public. While the legislation was passed favorably out of the Public Health Committee, it never made it out of the Finance Committee. Nevertheless, the Alliance succeeded in keeping the issue of using revenues from an increased cigarette tax to fund increased health care “on the table” during the entire budget negotiations by mobilizing thousands of targeted phone calls and organizing a last minute paid and earned media campaign. The Alliance is already meeting with legislative champions to strategizing for the upcoming special legislative session dealing with the Connecticut fiscal crisis.
The Alliance for a Healthy Maine got off to a terrific start by winning a landslide victory in the Maine House of Representatives on May 31 with the passage of LD 1303 that included many of the desired health expansions. While the bill did not contain the tobacco tax, the Alliance set up a phone bank to reach out to key supporters in support of the tobacco tax. In the week of June 18th, the legislature passed a 26¢ tax increase, but health care expansions were limited to 18,000 because of the Governor’s threat to veto greater health care expansions - link. A stronger and more determined Alliance moves onward and upward to strategy sessions for 2002 that include monitoring the implementation of their victory and protecting those precious gains from threatened budget cuts due to declining revenues.
The Health Now! Coalition’s main strategic goal is to identify and win a significant majority or 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate before calling for debate on a separate bill. (Acting Governor Jane Swift has vowed to veto the bill.) In a June press conference, the Chair of Ways and Means announced that 2/3 of the Senate supported Health Now! and that the Senate Ways and Means budget included asking DMA to begin the process of applying for federal waivers to approve the health expansions outlined in Health Now!. Meanwhile in the House, the Health Now! Coalition is busy organizing a grassroots and statehouse based lobbying campaign to identify 2/3 support. Summer activities include weekly Health Now! “Dear Colleague” informational drops to all legislators, a statewide targeted radio ad campaign, and a mini-rally on the Commons. As the formal legislative session closes in the middle of an economic downturn, the bill is “on the table” during the ongoing budget discussions and the Coalition is pressing the legislature to “Use the Tobacco Tax for Health Now!”
New Hampshire - http://www.reviewssemenax.com
Remarkably, the tobacco tax legislation was the only revenue bill that was not killed by the New Hampshire legislature during the regular session. Rep. Martha Fuller Clark and others were able to successfully have the bill “retained” by the Ways and Means Committee, with the proviso that more research be done. The Alliance for a Healthy New Hampshire held a press conference and legislative luncheon to unveil the voter opinion poll that showed that 73% of New Hampshire voters are in favor of the 50¢ tobacco tax increase. That was the highest level of voter support in New England! Finally in late October, after much discussion, the Ways and Means officially decided to that the tobacco tax was “inexpedient to legislate.” The Coalition has already begun meeting to plot a strategy for the 2002 session with a stronger coalition that includes additional allies and a new campaign coordinator.
The Campaign for a Healthy Rhode Island has successfully passed a 29¢ tobacco tax in the House of Representatives. The Senate and governor have also approved the legislation. The revenue generated by this tax will fund a limited number of health care expansions and increased tobacco control. Key legislative sponsors are extremely confident going into next year for an additional tobacco tax increase to fund health care expansions. The House Finance Chair, Tony Pires, has gone on record saying that he will be coming back next year to lead the campaign to increase the tobacco tax. Their efforts were complemented by paid advertising, direct mail and phone banks. The feedback has been positive, especially when combined with legislative visits. The economic downturn has presented new challenges and new opportunities for 2002 for the Coalition not the least of which is planning a strategy to increase the tax while monitoring and measuring the effect of last years victory at the same time.
The Alliance for a Healthy Vermont succeeded in getting a 50¢ tobacco tax increase and increased health care “on the table” during 2001 budget negotiations, using the governor’s original proposal for a 67 cent increase as leverage. In the final days of the budget debate, their chief sponsor, the Senate Finance Committee Chair made a calculated decision to delay calling for a vote on the tobacco tax measure because she did not have enough support for the program funding provisions of the proposal. The concern seemed not to be over whether or not the tax should be raised, but on how the state should spend those new revenues. Her strategy has kept the bill alive for next year. The legislation will come up again in January 2002, and a reorganized, reenergized and focused Coalition is already moving on a insider-outsider strategy that includes recruiting the key opinion leaders from the business community into action and mobilizing grassroots activists concerned with threatened cuts in health programs due to the economic downturn.