By Montana State Senator Mary Caferro
As I watched nearly $90 million in services for senior citizens and people who have disabilities, including children, being cut from the state budget I had to do something. Fortunately, we have a mechanism to help restore these programs and positively impact the health and welfare of Montanans. Through my bill called the SAVE ACT, we will increase the tobacco tax by $1.50 a pack. I fully understand that this may be considered excessive, but know it will take a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, a Band-Aid won’t do.
As a state legislator, I am very aware that Montana is a graying state – I can see it on the faces of my constituents and I confront the needs of our aging population every day in my committees. For years I’ve heard from Montanans about the desperate shortage of direct care workers due to low pay and the long waiting list for in-home care. Caring for an elder or a child who has a significant health condition is a huge challenge for families. It’s disturbing that in this legislative session the budget for long-term care services serving seniors and people with disabilities has been cut $90 million over the next two years. These cuts make no sense when the number of people aged 65 and over in Montana is projected to rise 55 percent over the next 15 years. It is the norm and expectationby people who have disabilities that they will be fully integrated in the community. Working, going to school, raising families, attending local churches, like everybody. With supports, people will avoid segregated settings and enjoy opportunities like everybody else.
The proposed budget cuts will hit Montana communities hard. If implemented, these cuts will make it even harder for families to find someone to care for their loved ones, risk putting rural nursing homes out of business, and make life next to impossible for people who need our support.
These budget cuts have driven me to sponsor the Save Act: A long-delayed increase in the state’s tobacco tax that will save critical health services, save young people from the perils of smoking, save health care dollars, and save lives that might have been lost as a result of tobacco use.
I do not take increasing a tax lightly. However, after evaluating all the evidence, I see this proposal as a win-win for Montana. Let me leave you with these facts. The continued economic toll of tobacco use and addiction cost our state more than $440 million in health care spending each year. Every Montana household contributes over $700 a year as a result of tobacco use.
This tax will not only impact cigarettes but will tax all other tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes. Empirical evidence proves that a tobacco tax increase is one of the most effective ways to encourage users to quit and prevent young people from starting. This evidence would suggest that the SAVE ACT would decrease youth use by 15.8 percent, which is so important considering that 90 percent of all adult smokers started when they were kids. Finally, perhaps the most compelling statistic is that we can prevent an estimated 3,900 tobacco-related deaths.
Please join me in supporting the SAVE ACT! Please call your legislators and ask them to support the SAVE ACT: 444-4800.
Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, represents Senate District 41 in the Montana Legislature. She has served in the state Senate since 2011. Prior to that, she served in the House of Representatives from 2005-2010.