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Citizens group says I-185, the tobacco-tax initiative, is uncons - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Citizens group says I-185, the tobacco-tax initiative, is unconstitutional

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I-185 would hike cig taxes $2 a pack I-185 would hike cig taxes $2 a pack
HELENA -

A Montana-based citizens group says the ballot measure to raise state tobacco taxes and extend Montana’s Medicaid-expansion program is unconstitutional and should be tossed from the November ballot.

In a letter sent late Tuesday to Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, the Guardian Group said Initiative 185 violates the state constitution by appropriating money, and asked Stapleton to remove I-185 from the ballot.

Stapleton’s office told MTN News it will not be removing I-185 from the ballot.

Nathan Pierce, a Billings contractor and spokesman for the Guardian Group, told MTN News Wednesday that the group may consider legal action to press its case.

I-185, if passed by voters this November, would increase state tobacco taxes by $2 on a pack of cigarettes and by 67% on other tobacco products.

It also makes permanent Montana’s Medicaid expansion, which provides government-funded health coverage to nearly 100,000 low-income Montanans, and allocates a portion of the increased tobacco-tax revenue to help finance the state share of Medicaid expansion costs.

The federal government finances most of Medicaid expansion, but the state is scheduled to pay 10 percent of the costs by 2020.

The Guardian Group said the measure violates Section III of the state constitution, that says initiatives may be enacted on all matters “except appropriations of money.”

“I-185 unambiguously appropriates money to many areas, including Medicaid expansion, in clear violation of (the) Montana constitution,” Pierce said in a statement.

The Guardian Group is funded by various organizations and citizen groups and is involved in “consumer advocacy,” Pierce said. It’s hasn’t received any funding from the tobacco-industry-funded committee opposing I-185, he added.

Kathy Weber-Bates, spokeswoman for the committee supporting I-185, told MTN News that the group is thankful Stapleton is "not allowing shadowy organizations to disrupt the citizens initiative process," and noted that the attorney general's office reviewed I-185 for legal sufficiency.

"Without knowing exactly who is behind this effort and where this dark money comes from, it's hard for anyone to know their true motives," she said.  

About Mike Dennison

MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison joined MTN News in August 2015 after a 23-year career as a newspaper reporter covering Montana politics and state government. While some may believe that politics are boring, Mike firmly believes that's not the case if you tell the story with pizzazz and let people know why the story is important.
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