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Oregon Health Authority's 'wish list' legislation would raise millions to fund health plan

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Beer, and other alcohol and cigarettes, could cost more if lawmakers approve proposed legislation enacting millions in new 'sin taxes.'SALEM — Oregonians could see significant increases in alcohol and tobacco prices if a state agency succeeds in raising millions from consumers in the next two years.

The Oregon Health Authority is considering seeking $784 million in new tax money for the 2019-21 state budget cycle. That includes increasing taxes on beer, wine and cider by 10 percent, estimated to raise an additional $491 million over two years.

PMG/EO MEDIA/ SRAnother $293 million would be raised through a $2 per pack tax on cigarettes, an excise tax on "inhalant delivery systems," and removing the limit on taxing cigars.

The Health Authority said in its preliminary budget documents that it would use $49 million to expand alcohol and drug treatment programs. It budgets about $29 million for tobacco and chronic disease prevention.

Robb Cowie, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority, said the proposals were more of a "wish list" and are "preliminary." He also said the agency hasn't determined how the prevention money would be used. "We're still working with legislative counsel to draft language that would direct funding for the 90 percent outside public health chronic disease prevention programs."

The preliminary budget documents say the rest of the money from the proposed alcohol tax increase would generate funds for treatment services, cities, counties and the state's general fund.

But it's unclear, from the budget documents, how the remainder of the taxes generated by tobacco that aren't going to prevention would be spent.

The proposal comes as Gov. Kate Brown works on crafting a new state budget, due to legislators on Dec. 1. The state is facing an $830 million funding gap for the Oregon Health Plan, the state's Medicaid program.

Brown is convening a work group to evaluate funding proposals to fill that gap. Some of the new tobacco tax money could be used for that gap, but the new alcohol taxes for now aren't part of that mix.

Although the information is publicly available in the agency's requested budget, posted online, it is coming out as the governor's office has refused to publicly share proposed legislation from state agencies until attorneys for the Legislature submit bill drafts to Brown's office for approval. The deadline for that is Nov. 30.

A Portland attorney, Greg Chaimov, is suing the state in Marion County Circuit Court to gain access to such proposals, which he says he has been able to get in the past.

Reporter Claire Withycombe: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-385-4903. Withycombe is a reporter for the East Oregonian working for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group, and Salem Reporter.

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