Why you should support the renewal of the cigarette tax.

LAND Studio's AHA Festival. Photo by Frank Lanza.

LAND Studio’s AHA Festival. Photo by Frank Lanza.

In 2006, the voters of Cuyahoga County made a bold and historic decision: they approved a 1.5 cent-per-cigarette tax that generates more than $15 million each year to support arts and culture organizations and projects.

The levy was an innovative idea designed to help Cleveland reclaim its historic role as a cultural hub for the nation. Its impact has been immense. Publicly funded grants distributed by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) have provided vital support to the activity driving Cleveland’s renaissance.

But the continuation of that public funding cannot be taken for granted. The original levy expires soon, so this November, voters will likely have the chance to renew it.

As they go to the polls in just a few months, voters should consider two questions: First, was the tax effective in achieving its goals? And second, is the renewal of the tax good policy in 2015?

I strongly believe that the answer to both questions is an unequivocal yes.

My support for the levy renewal comes directly from the roles that I have taken in Northeast Ohio. In my business role, as the owner of an advertising agency, I saw first-hand how important a vibrant arts and culture scene is to attracting and inspiring talent that is the lifeblood of creative enterprise.

Culture is also important for its own sake. As an art collector, I know how difficult it is for artists to build a viable career without the support of institutions and communities. And as a donor, board member and leader of arts institutions in Cleveland, I am acutely aware of tension between the limited resources of non-profit arts and culture organizations and the needs of communities that hunger for the human and economic potential that the arts can unlock.

Finally, like all citizens, I am concerned with matters of public health. As a member of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-funded advisory board on tobacco regulatory science at University of Southern California, I understand the devastating impact of smoking on the health of vulnerable communities and the futures of our young people.

What I’ve learned in these roles has led me to take on a fifth role, as a Co-Chair of the Arts and Culture Action Committee supporting the renewal of the arts and culture levy.

There is little doubt that the arts and culture levy has made a profound difference in Cuyahoga County. The impact has been felt in every corner of the county in what we have protected: proud legacy institutions that survived the crash of 2008 with a clean bill of health.

Importantly, the impact is also felt in what we have created: thriving new arts start-ups, innovative new programming, exciting new artists; all part of the Cleveland resurgence that the world is talking about.

This tax should not be thought of as another expense:. We should recognize that this is as an investment that has earned a very handsome return.

Cuyahoga Arts and Culture has reached every corner of the county, supporting 300 organizations in 2,300 locations in nearly every community. The impact on education has been especially dynamic, with over 1.4 million annual experiences for our school children.

Moreover, the levy amplifies the substantial economic impact of our arts and culture sector. Every dollar from the levy supports $21.43 in direct expenditures. Our arts and culture organizations provide more than $350 million in annual direct economic impact, and support nearly 9,000 diverse jobs.

These funds have been distributed through competitive grants that maintain the high standards of artistic excellence and demand results and accountability.

The arts and culture levy hasn’t just been a success by the numbers; it has also changed the narrative of our town. The energy and pride in our arts and culture scene is contagious, and the world is taking notice. We are bringing the arts and artists of the world to Cleveland, and artists are coming here to create work for an international stage.

But this levy is not just good for the arts. It’s also good public policy.

First, it is important to remember that the potential November 2015 issue will be a renewal, not a new tax, and it will have no impact on what consumers currently pay.

While no one likes paying taxes, we should recognize that the bigger tax on the community is the scourge of tobacco. This insidious product is cynically targeted by big tobacco to young and vulnerable populations, and it exacts a heavy price on the entire community with increased healthcare costs and tragically lost human life and potential.

We can and will continue to fight smoking through education and regulation. But in reality, our most effective weapon is price: Increased costs are the best tool available to prevent young people from smoking. And if you can prevent a young person from taking up the habit by age 24, there is little chance that they will ever become smokers.

So, perhaps the most compelling argument for the continuation of this tax is that it is an investment in the health and the future of our children. Smoking rates have dropped in Cuyahoga County since the tax was implemented. If we fail to renew this tax we will, in effect, cut the price of cigarettes and enable a new generation of smokers, at the expense of our arts and culture community.  

Your support for the renewal of this levy is a smart choice for public health, as well as an investment in the continued artistic, cultural, economic and social health of our communities.

We are reaching a tipping point in Cuyahoga County. The collaboration that created this magazine made the arts community stronger and more vibrant. Let’s not lose the momentum we have gained. United behind the renewal of the arts and culture levy, we will continue to thrive.