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    Support for Prop 29 Wavers as June 5 Vote Nears

    Those in favor of the $1 tax on cigarettes fall 14 percent, while at least 18 newspapers have come out against the measure.

    SACRAMENTO , Calif. -- The June 5 vote on Proposition 29 is fast approaching and there are indications that the tide is starting to turn against the measure.

    A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released on May 23 found 53 percent of likely voters said they would vote yes, 42 percent said they will vote no, and 5 percent are undecided on the measure. And while the PPIC found that slightly more than half of likely voters are still leaning in favor of the proposal, the support is down dramatically from an earlier poll in March. At that time, 67 percent supported it, 30 percent opposed it, and 3 percent were undecided. However, as PPIC pointed out, that was before any active campaigning for and against Prop 29 began.

    Proposition 29 would add an additional $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes, and an equivalent tax increase on other tobacco products that would generate between $700 and $800 million annually.

    When likely voters were asked a more general question about their views on increasing taxes on cigarette purchases, 63 percent responded they are in favor and 33 percent are opposed. Responses to this question were similar in March (63 percent in favor, 34 percent opposed), according to PPIC.

    Several media outlets have also come out against Prop 29, possibly contributing to the shift in support. According to the No on 29 committee (a coalition of more than 3,200 groups and individuals), at least 18 newspapers across California have published editorials arguing against Prop 29. Those newspapers include the Los Angeles Times, The Orange County Register, The Modesto Bee, and the Ventura County Star.

    The main sticking point in the editorials does not seem to an increased levy, but the fact that the revenue generated from the proposed tax increase would not necessarily stay in state -- at a time when California is grappling with an estimated $16-billion deficit.

    "The problem with Proposition 29, which would raise $735 million a year at the outset (gradually dropping off as more smokers quit), isn't the tax but how the money it raises would be spent," wrote the Los Angeles Times." Most of it, more than $500 million a year, would be directed to a new, independent quasi-public agency that would award grants for research on cancer and other smoking-related illnesses, such as heart and lung diseases. (The research itself would not need to be tobacco-related; a grantee could study, say, the effects of obesity on heart disease, or malignant melanoma caused by overexposure to the sun.)

    "Proposition 29 is well intentioned, but it just doesn't make sense for the state to get into the medical research business to the tune of half a billion dollars a year when it has so many other important unmet needs," the editorial continued. "California can't afford to retain its K-12 teachers, keep all its parks open, give public college students the courses they need to earn a degree or provide adequate home health aides for the infirm or medical care for the poor. If the state is going to raise a new $735 million, it should put the money in the general fund rather than dedicating it to an already well-funded research effort. Funding priorities shouldn't be set at the ballot box."

    And in its editorial "Prop. 29 a Bad Way to Fund a Good Cause," The Orange County Regsiter said asking who could be against cancer research is the wrong question to ask.

    "More appropriate questions might include who could favor an unaccountable new government bureaucracy, which Prop. 29 would create? Who could favor taxing Californians to raise money to spend in other states and countries, as Prop. 29 would? Who could favor taxing Californians to enable up to $110 million a year to be spent to buy land and buildings for huge for-profit companies, as Prop. 29 would? Who could favor exempting hundreds of millions a year from going to public schools, as the state constitution requires? These are but a few of the more appropriate questions voters might ask about Prop. 29," the editorial stated.


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