BILLINGS – Montana Attorney General Tim Fox’s office sided Monday with the backers of a ballot measure raising cigarette taxes on the language of the initiative.
The final decision on the challenge to Initiative 185 by an opposition group, Montanans Against Tax Hikes, lies with the Montana Supreme Court, which will look at language describing what the cigarette tax hike would fund.
Jon Bennion, Montana’s chief deputy attorney, wrote in a filing to the high court that the group’s requests are minor and don’t rise to a level warranting court revisions.
He said the ballot is easily understood and, "The ballot statements, along with official and unofficial sources of information, give voters the background needed to cast an informed ballot."
I-185 would raise the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack, for a total of $3.70.
Montanans Against Tax Hikes says the summary voters will see on the ballot is misleading.
The group claims the current language isn’t clear about how much taxes are increasing on tobacco products other than cigarettes and moist snuff. That tax is increasing from 50 percent of a product’s wholesale value to 83 percent.
They also want the language to specifically note that much of the money raised from the higher taxes will go toward the state general fund. The current language notes several specific uses for the money, including Medicaid, veterans’ services, tobacco prevention and services for seniors and people with disabilities. But Montanans Against Tax Hikes argues the general fund will receive one of the largest shares of funding, so it should be included as well.
Chuck Denowh, treasurer for Montanans Against Tax Hikes, released a statement.
“I-185 is a massive new tax increase that permanently expands Medicaid but doesn’t allocate enough money to pay for it, leaving all Montanans on the hook for tens of millions of dollars per year,” he said. “Montanans Against Tax Hikes plans to run a campaign and make sure voters understand why they should reject I-185.”
This year’s election is Nov. 6.