Ohio Grants Permission for Revised Arts Tax

Arts funding in Cuyahoga County could get a significant boost by the end of 2023. Just before Christmas, 2022, The Ohio legislature passed a bill that includes permission for Cuyahoga County to put before its voters a revision of the cigarette tax that supports the arts. Governor Mike Dewine signed the bill January 2.  Jeremy Johnson, director of the advocacy organization Assembly for the Arts, says it may go on the ballot as soon as November.

The cigarette tax revenue stream, administered by Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, has steadily declined as fewer people smoke cigarettes. The first full year the tax was collected (2008), it brought in $19.5 million and has declined 3.9% on average each year for 15 years, as detailed in the table below. Last year it had dwindled to about $12 million. If voters approve, the revised tax is projected to bring cigarette tax revenue back to about $20 million, Johnson said.

Table of revenue Courtesy of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture

The boost would come from changing from the tax from 30 cents per pack to nine percent of revenue, and extending it from cigarettes to include vaping products.  Both of those changes are expected not only to increase revenue, but also to stabilize it to some degree.

The enabling legislation is part of Senate Bill 164, the initial purpose of which was to prohibit animal shelters from “destroying” domestic animals by the use of a gas chamber. The bill was amended in the House “to authorize Cuyahoga County to convert its existing cigarette tax to a wholesale tax and levy a new wholesale tax on vapor products.”

The last time CAN covered the effort to boost declining revenue from the cigarette tax, advocates had discussed a range of options, from beer and wine to a fine dining tax. But taxing beer and wine—which support renovation of the stadium—is a political lightening rod highly unlikely to win support. A restaurant tax in the COVID era was also probably not a good idea. Because marijuana is only legal for medicinal purposes in Ohio, and because that use can’t be taxed, that was off the table. At the time we quoted Fred Bidwell (who is on the board of Assembly for the Arts and a member of Assembly for Action, a 501(c)4 organization that advocates for the tax) as saying they had to go with “the tax you can get.”

Johnson credits several legislators for roles they played in the effort, especially Representative Tom Patton, Representative Jamie Callender, and Senator Matt Dolan. The initial bill was sponsored by Senators Jay Hottinger and Kenny Yuko, and had a long list of co-sponsors.

He says the permissive legislation is serendipitously well-timed with Cuyahoga County’s participation in Arts and Economic Prosperity 6, a national study of the economic impact of the arts.  Results are expected in October, which means they would debut just before the November election—the earliest the revision of the tax is likely to go before voters.

“That would be great to have economic impact information at the same time as we might be putting something before the public,” Johnson said.

In the meantime, it is his task to make the case for the revised tax, and rally voices in the arts sector to support it. That will include unifying disparate voices–from non-profit arts institutions, to individual artists, to the commercial arts sector–to campaign for the boost.  Artists, organizations, and patrons can expect to be called upon in the effort.  

NOTE: This article has been updated with tax collection information, including year-by-year revenue, from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

Collective Arts Network is grateful to the people of Cuyahoga County and to Cuyahoga Arts and Culture for support.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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