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House Kills $1.50-Per-Pack Cigarette Tax To Fund Oklahoma Healthcare Services

State Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, on the floor of the Oklahoma House in Oklahoma City, March 2, 2015.
Sue Ogrocki
State Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, on the floor of the Oklahoma House in Oklahoma City, March 2, 2015.

The Oklahoma House rejected a proposed $1.50 per-pack tax on cigarettes to help shore up the state's health care system.

Updated May 19, 10:36 a.m.

House Bill 3210 failed on a vote of 59-40 against the measure even after House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, held the vote open for more than two hours Wednesday night to fix what he called a “health care disaster.” Republicans blaming Democrats for the bill's failure.

“This measure is the key to keeping nursing homes open across our state, keeping hospitals open across our state,” Hickman said. “Addressing DHS service providers, addressing mental health service providers. This is the path forward to address that."

Because the bill includes a tax increase, it requires 76 votes to pass. House Democratic Leader Scott Inman said his caucus wouldn't back the proposal until the GOP agrees to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

"This is not a partisan issue. This is an Oklahoma issue,” Hickman said. “When you start talking about closing nursing homes and hospitals across the state it's going to affect every legislative district in this state. It will affect every member of the House.”

State Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, one of the few physicians at the state Capitol, served notice to reconsider the bill.

“Right now, without this cigarette tax, this budget is in peril,” Cox said. “While this is earmarked for healthcare, this affects the entire budget.”

State Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, said she’s never voted for a tax increase in eight years at the Capitol, but said she was fully ready to debate in favor of the measure and vote for it.

“Most of us do not like sin taxes. It’s not something we would’ve picked, but this is the choice we’ve been dealt,” Osborn said. “We are looking at 25 percent provider rate cuts. That closes the majority of our small town and rural hospitals in the state. That cuts down mental health spending. That cuts down services for the disabled, and that cuts down Department of Human Services spending.”

Original Post

Oklahoma's House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget passed a bill Monday that would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50.

That would generate $180 million for healthcare services, like maintaining the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rate at its current level and supporting the state’s premium assistance program, Insure Oklahoma.

State Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, one of the few physicians at the Capitol, says the tax increase would keep young people from starting to smoke.

“We know that the greatest deterrent in a young person starting unfortunately is not education, it’s price,” Cox said.

Cox also dismissed that businesses would be hurt by the tax because smokers would buy tobacco in neighboring states.

“Let’s face it. Sad but true, most people who smoke a significant amount where they would be interested in stocking up, they simply can’t afford to,” Cox said. “They live day to day. They live pack to  pack. They can’t cross over the border to buy ten cases of cigarettes at $550 a trip.”

Gov. Mary Fallin praised the measure, calling it “a crucial first step in reducing Oklahoma’s leading cause of preventable death.” The bill would require a three-fourths majority in the House and Senate to pass.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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