Signature gathering approved for cigarette tax increase initiative

$730M of new revenue would be used for colleges

LOS ANGELES - Backers of an initiative to increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and raise taxes on other tobacco products to expand financial aid for California residents enrolled at public universities received permission Tuesday from Secretary of State Debra Bowen to begin gathering signatures.

What backers have dubbed as The California Residents College Accessibility and Affordability Act of 2014 would annually generate $800 million from the cigarette tax increase and $45 million from the tax increase on other tobacco products, according to an estimate prepared by the Legislative Analyst's Office and Director of Finance Ana J. Matosantos.

Of the additional cigarette tax revenue, $730 million would be spent on financial aid for resident students at University of California and California State University campuses and $70 million to backfill losses to existing tobacco programs.

The additional revenue from the increased taxes on other tobacco products would be used for other existing programs, including preventing smoking.

Valid signatures from 504,760 registered voters -- 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 general election -- must be submitted by July 22 to qualify the measure for the November 2014 ballot.

Californians should support the initiative statute because "there's no reason the dream of college education should be out of reach for any hard working student in California," Jason Kinney, a communications strategist for the public affairs company California Strategies, told KXTV-TV Channel 10, the Sacramento ABC affiliate.

Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the Senate Republican leader, told City News Service "we shouldn't be asking how to locate a source of sufficient financial aid for students. Voters were promised this source of funding when they voted for Proposition 30," the income and sales tax increase approved by voters in November.

Huff said "voters have already rejected the past two proposed cigarette tax hikes because they know taxing a declining source of revenue isn't the smartest of options," referring to Proposition 29 on the June ballot to fund cancer research and Proposition 86 on the November 2006 ballot to finance hospital care for children and anti-smoking campaigns.

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