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Voters Overwhelmingly Support Small Cigarette Tax Hike for Education

Oct. 29, 2004

PORTSMOUTH - New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly support a 17-cent cigarette tax increase to provide necessary state aid to public schools - a proposal that died in the Legislature after Governor Benson threatened a veto - according to a new poll released Friday by the Coalition Communities.

The results of the survey conducted by the prestigious Becker Institute found that 78% of voters would approve of the proposal to implement the small hike, which still would leave cigarette prices far below those charged in surrounding states.

In addition, a recent Coalition Communities survey of candidates for the New Hampshire House found 66% of responding House candidates would support a small cigarette tax hike for education. The overwhelming majority of responding House candidates (79%) also supported an end to Donor towns and the statewide property tax (76%), and would back targeted aid legislation similar to the Coalition's House Bill 717 (77%).

The full survey results of NH House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates can be found at www.cityofportsmouth.com

Portsmouth Mayor Evelyn Sirrell, leader of the 34-member Coalition Communities, said she was not surprised by the independent Becker Institute survey results.

"Rather than once again increase the state of New Hampshire's over-reliance on the statewide property tax and further hurting property owners across the state, the voters apparently have no objection to a slight increase in an already comparatively low cigarette tax," the Mayor noted.

"It's time for those in leadership positions to listen to the wisdom of our citizens," she added. "If last May schoolchildren -- and taxpayers - had been put first rather than smokers, we would have finally seen Donor towns nearly disappear and the poorest towns receive the additional money they need.

"Instead, we have a formula that gave the richest towns more money than scheduled and less to the poorest. I hope the new Legislature will work hard to right this terrible wrong," she said.

The NH House last spring overwhelmingly passed an education funding proposal that used a small increase in the cigarette tax to provide additional aid, rather than force towns with high property values to raise and donate an extra $22 million in statewide property taxes. It never reached the Senate after Benson vowed to veto a cigarette tax, but lobbied for increasing the SWPT to $3.33 rather than the $3.24 scheduled to go into effect - reinstating Donor towns.

The recent Becker poll found that support for the 17-cent cigarette tax hike crosses political and ideological lines -- with Republicans only slightly less supportive than Democrats and Independents and conservatives expressing 2-1 approval, just slightly lower than the approval shown by liberals (84%) and moderates (82%). Only one in five voters disapprove of the proposal.

The survey also found that in the race for Governor, voters supporting John Lynch were significantly more approving of the cigarette tax increase (85%) than are Benson voters (71%). Lynch has said he would consider a small tobacco tax increase , if necessary, to pay for education.

The Becker survey was conducted Oct. 2 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2-5 percentage points of possible sampling variance.


 1 Junkins Ave., Portsmouth, NH, 03801, Tel: (603) 610-7281Fax: (603) 427-1575 Email: Coalition@ch.cityofportsmouth.com