Colorado Case Study
Tobacco Excise Tax Constitutional Amendment Referendum Campaign in Colorado
What were the important elements to the intervention's success?
- Taking time to do comprehensive planning at the beginning of the campaign.
- Initiating the state constitutional amendment "title setting" process during 2003 in preparation for the 2004 campaign to determine whether or not raising taxes and dedicating their revenues met the test of "single subject" and to learn how the opposition would challenge the proposal.
- Broadening the CTEPA coalition beyond tobacco control advocacy groups to form Citizens for a Healthier Colorado (CHC): tobacco coalition members taking a back seat and giving up "ownership" of the campaign; selection of campaign spokespersons who represent racial and ethnic diversity and have no previous involvement with tobacco issues.
- Strength of CHC and CTEPA, due to a plan, organization, and funding, prevented the tobacco industry from opposing the campaign.
- Well thought-out spending plan for revenues generated by the tax increases in order to attract new members and funding for the campaign.
- Effective fundraising.
- Level of CHC member agencies' commitment and staff support.
- Purchasing airtime on television and radio during summer to secure cheaper rates and preferred airtimes during a year in which Coloradans would be voting in both a presidential and senatorial election.
- Dissemination by STEPP of accurate data, research, best practices, and STEPP program effectiveness to STEPP's Advisory Board, CHC and CTEPA, and county health departments and coalitions.
- STEPP goals, objectives, and strategies remaining evidence-based no matter its level of funding.
Describe the policy and/or program interventions applicability/replicability to other sites, and include recommendations for other sites.
Although the Colorado constitution's amendment, initiative, and referendum requirements are unique to Colorado, the work of the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance and the Citizens for a Healthier Colorado in planning and implementing a voter referendum to amend the Colorado constitution to increase the tobacco excise taxes and dedicate the revenues generated by the tax increases to tobacco prevention and treatment and other health-related programs is applicable and replicable in those states whose constitutions authorize voter initiatives and referenda.
Describe the challenges faced, and below each challenge, describe any solutions used to correct or reduce the problem.
Challenge:Convincing people that the effort was "for real" due to past history of a failed excise tax increase campaign and subsequent discord among many in the pubic health community.
Solutions:Many meetings with active and potential coalition members were scheduled and momentum built to a convincing threshold of belief.
Challenge:Struggle to reach agreement on how to allocate new revenues generated by tax increases.
Solutions:A facilitator trusted by both tobacco control advocates and health care advocates was hired to bring key players to the table and to guide the coalition partners toward agreement on how to allocate the new revenues.
Challenge:Deciding whether to designate the Department of Public Health STEPP or a to-be-designated new Foundation to administer the tobacco prevention and treatment funding generated by the tax increases.
Solutions:Because of a perceived lack of support for a comprehensive tobacco prevention and treatment program from some people within the Colorado Department of Public Health, some partners were hesitant about the ability of the department to adequately administer an expanded tobacco prevention and control program. After discussion about establishing a foundation to administer a new program outside the Colorado Department of Public Health, the coalition agreed to designate the STEPP as the enhanced program's administrative agency.
Challenge:A competing measure tax in the legislature to raise the cigarette excise being pushed by the AARP.
Solutions:AARP was recruited to participate in CHC. Although the organization wanted substantial revenues generated from the increased taxes dedicated to programs for seniors, it was unwilling to provide assistance to the campaign and did not join CHC. Instead, the AARP publicly criticized CHC and found a legislator to introduce a bill to put a competing cigarette excise tax increase/health care funding referendum on the ballot. The coalition hired a lobbyist and successfully defeated the bill.
Challenge:Commitment not to pursue the campaign unless a fundraising benchmark of $1 million was reached by January 2004.
Solutions:By January 2004, $1.1 million was raised and committed, and the campaign went into high gear.
Challenge:Legislative "end-run" around amendment language stating that "new revenues could not be used to supplant existing spending". During May 2004 the legislature passed a law zeroing out all state health expenditures for 1 day on January 1, 2005 (the day the amendment was to be added to the constitution, if passed), which, in effect, might make the amendment's language on supplanting existing spending null because there were technically no existing programs.
Solutions:A legal challenge to the supplanting amendment was filed.
Challenge:Inaccurate and inflammatory description of the impact of the proposed amendment on local tax collections that was presented to the legislative committee charged with preparing the state-distributed blue book voter guide.
Solutions:By law, the state distributes a voter guide that provides in plain language the reasons offered in support of and in opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment. Legislative staff analyze proposed amendments, prepare three or four items in support and in opposition from those submitted by supporters and opponents, and then submit their draft to the legislative committee responsible for authorizing the final text for the voter guide. When deliberating on the tobacco excise tax amendment, the committee rejected staff recommendations and substituted its own language opposing the amendment that was identical to language in a study commissioned by Philip Morris/Altria on the potential impact of the tobacco tax increase on police and fire services in local communities. CHC immediately rewrote and resubmitted new items for inclusion in the voter guide that met and dismissed the Philip Morris/Altria arguments. The committee voted to include CHC's new language in the arguments in support of the amendment that appeared in the blue book voter guide.
Challenge:Lack of support from the governor and some leadership in the Colorado Department of Public Health.
Solutions:Campaign selected well respected co-chairs who became powerful, trusted spokespersons for the amendment addressing the public health, youth, healthcare access, and health program issues in the absence of governmental leaders.
What would you have done differently?
Be more alert to legislative and other challenges (a) from disgruntled organizations such as the AARP; (b) from legislative leaders seeking to derail the spending plans as they did in passing the supplanting law; (c) from legislators on the blue book voter guide legislative committee who seemed to be supported by tobacco-industry interests.
Lessons Learned Notes
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