Richmond Forward is joining with the VCU Medical Student Association and American Heart Association in supporting the proposed $0.80 cent cigarette tax to provide a dedicated revenue stream for school facility maintenance. Next year alone, this would collect $5 million (see page 4)!
We know this will not be an easy vote. We recognize the significant benefit that Altria provides to this community through investment in our school system and real estate taxes. We recognize the concerns of small business owners who feel that this will cause them to lose customers to the county. We recognize that this will disproportionally impact poor people who smoke.
Our responses to these valid and tough questions are as follows:
"I'm a small business owner who will lose shoppers to Chesterfield and Henrico."
Similar arguments have been made by restaurant owners for the meals tax and what has Richmond become, a food mecca. People buy cigarettes where it is easiest and in closest proximity. The Town of Ashland, surrounded by non-tax Hanover, is a local example where a cigarette tax, bemoaned by businesses at its inception, has had no long-term negative effects on convenience store profit. In the past year alone, the Town has added two gas stations with cigarette sales.
"Altria will leave Richmond."
They won't. Workforce composition is the central driver for future site selection, and that talented workforce is here in Richmond. They have too must invested in infrastructure and business relocation will not be based on a local tax that has no direct impact on their economic model. Will they like this? No. Will they leave? No.
"The revenue stream is inconsistent."
Not true. In the past 6 years, revenues collected from cigarette taxes (see page 2) in Ashland have declined, but at a linear and consistent rate. Our argument for cigarette taxes is that it will not be a long-term revenue solution, but one that will help us deal with a backlog of unmet facility needs.
"This will disproportionally impact poor people."
Yes, but so do failing school facilities. It a choice between two inconveniences. An adult buying cigarettes or children going to an unsafe school. We choose to address the latter.
Why a cigarette tax?
The success of effective tobacco control policies means that cigarette consumption will drop more rapidly than in the past – a trend that benefits public health, increases worker productivity, and lowers health care costs. The American Heart Association has additional benefits listed here.
Best practice in Virginia
Almost all other Virginia cities (see page 3) take advantage of their ability to levy and collect cigarette taxes. We need to join the crowd.
Critical funding for maintenance of schools is needed
Remember that Richmond historically funded school facility maintenance at $0.10/square foot when the industry standard is $3.00/square foot. This has put us with a backlog of $31 million in basic maintenance needs.
Mayor Stoney is only proposing $1.6 million for facility maintenance ($0.36/square foot). This is unacceptable.
Please make the right decisions today and join with Richmond Forward, VCU Medical Student Association, and American Heart Association in supporting the proposed $0.80 cent cigarette tax to provide a dedicated revenue stream for school facility maintenance. We’re asking you to do not what is easy, but what is right.