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Voters Just Say No to Tampon Taxes and Higher Cigarette Taxes

But on the issue of grocery taxes, voters in the Pacific Northwest were divided.

Groceries in a cart.
(Flickr/Robert Couse-Baker)
For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

For some voters, filing their taxes is one of the only regular interactions they have with the government. It's no surprise, then, that many of them feel strongly about the topic.

On Tuesday, voters in several states had a chance to weigh in on what does and does not get taxed -- Groceries? Tampons? Tobacco?


Grocery Taxes

Residents in the Pacific Northwest were split on two similar ballot measures that would have banned any new taxes on groceries -- with the exception of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.

Oregon rejected its measure, while Washington voters appear poised to pass its grocery tax ban. With 64 percent of precincts reporting, 54 percent were in favor.

Oregon’s was more stringent, retroactively applying to any tax passed after Oct. 1, 2017. If approved, it would have killed a soda tax passed in Multnomah County. It would also have prevented the state from enacting any new grocery taxes, whereas Washington’s would only ban local grocery taxes.

Advocates of the measures said it’s a way to make food more affordable for struggling families.

"Heaping taxes on everyday grocery items will raise our cost of living and make it even harder for working families, small businesses and their workers to get by," said a statement by Yes! To Affordable Groceries, a Washington state group that supported the measure.

Such taxes are regressive, meaning they take a proportionally larger share of income from lower- and middle-income residents than from wealthier taxpayers. Daniel Floy, a spokesperson for the Measure 103 campaign in Oregon, said grocery taxes keep popping up in the statehouse and city halls, and this initiative would have killed them once and for all.

"We’re done fighting them. It’s not something we want to keep fighting year after year," said Floy.

But given that neither Oregon nor Washington tax groceries, opponents said grocery tax bans are just a way to weaken local authority -- and to stop soda taxes, a progressive trend to curb obesity and raise revenue that’s gained popularity in cities, including Seattle. The major soda companies funded both initiatives.  

In addition to support from major soda companies, Oregon’s measure was also backed by the Northwest Grocery Association. Meanwhile, Gov. Kate Brown and the state's Democratic party opposed the measure. 

In Washington, the measure had the support of the Washington Farm Bureau, the Washington Food and Beverage Association, and the local Teamsters union. Opponents included the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition and the Healthy King County Coalition.

There, soda companies helped supporters massively outraise their opponents. The opposition campaign only had $13,384 on hand, compared to supporters' $20 million. 


Tobacco Taxes

Every state taxes cigarettes. They often fund smoking cessation programs. But on Tuesday, Montana and South Dakota declined to raise them to fund other initiatives.

In Montana, voters were asked to hike the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $2, bringing it up to $3.70. The extra revenue would have been used to fund Medicaid expansion, a central tenet of President Obama's signature law that makes more low-income people eligible for health care. The legislature expanded its Medicaid program in 2015, but the policy will expire next year unless the state finds a new way to fund it.

All of the major health organizations in the state came out in favor of the measure, including the Montana Hospital Association and the Montana Public Health Association. But tobacco interests spent big, raising more than $17 million to fight the tax hike. Supporters had comparatively raised $9 million.

In South Dakota, the tax increase -- from $1.53 to $2.53 a pack -- would have been used to fund technical institutes to shore up the state’s workforce development, which is lacking. 

"We can't compete. Workforce development is a critical issue, and I think we have a responsibility to act," state House Speaker Mick Mickelson told the Argus-Leader.

The main supporter of the measure was the Tuition 4 Tech Students organization; its biggest opponents were tobacco interests, South Dakota Retailers Association and Americans for Prosperity, which argue that the tax hikes are unnecessary.

Supporters raised around $720,000, and opponents -- largely tobacco interests group -- raised $9 million.


Tampon Taxes

Nevada became the 16th state to nix the sales tax on feminine hygiene products. 

The policy has become a relatively bipartisan issue in recent years. Republicans like tax cuts, and Democrats see it as a way to address gender inequality and make tampons and pads more affordable. Four states nixed the so-called tampon tax in 2017 alone.

For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

Mattie covers all things health for Governing.

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