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Assemblyman Bill Elam speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Assemblyman Bill Elam speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

An attempt to introduce two ordinances that would have imposed an excise tax on tobacco products and then used the proceeds to fund a child care subsidy program failed in the Kenai Peninsula County Assembly at its last regular meeting on Tuesday, June 4.

The first regulation, which would have introduced a tobacco tax, was rejected by a vote of 5 to 3 before it was adopted. Since the said source of funding is now missing, the second regulation, which introduced a subsidy program for child care, was withdrawn by its initiator.

Ordinance 2024-15, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Brent Johnson and Assemblymembers Cindy Ecklund and Mike Tupper, aimed to address the lack of affordable, accessible, and quality child care and the negative impacts the lack of child care has on the available workforce in the county.

Order 2024-14 proposed a tobacco tax to fund the child care ordinance. It would have taxed “all cigarettes and tobacco products” at a rate of $0.05 per cigarette, or 35% of the price of tobacco products.

The regulation also contains language that defines e-cigarettes and vapes as tobacco products that would have been subject to the tax.

During a committee meeting ahead of the regular session on Tuesday, Ecklund said the tax would raise about $4 million each year.

“The reason for putting forward this proposal is to provide funds for various needs throughout the district,” Ecklund said.

According to Ecklund, 34 percent of the excise tax would have been used for the maintenance and upkeep of district-owned school buildings, 30 percent would have been earmarked to fund new and existing child care facilities within the district, 15 percent would have been earmarked for the maintenance and improvement of district-owned administrative buildings, 1 percent would have gone to Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line for “educational purposes” and the remaining 20 percent would have gone into the district’s general fund.

“The development of this ordinance came about because we became aware of the child care crisis and tried to find a way to help them,” she said. “The municipality and county of Anchorage had just approved taxing marijuana to fund child care … that was an example that we thought could work.”

Ecklund also named 22 other counties and cities in the state of Alaska that have already introduced an excise tax on tobacco and tobacco products.

Both ordinances were scheduled to be introduced during the June 4 Assembly and were originally scheduled for a public hearing on July 9. Neither ordinance was supported or advanced by the group. The two ordinances were removed from the Assembly agenda by Assemblyman Bill Elam and sent for further consideration.

“I believe that Ordinance 2024-15 in particular is out of reach for the powers that we have in the county,” he said. “You could definitely debate the different rationales and funds and how they are used, but if you look at the budget that the mayor put together, we’re doing just fine with what we have. We’re funding the core services that the county has provided. Funding the social programs is something that we’ve consistently failed to do.”

The Assembly rejected the proposed tobacco tax by a vote of 5 to 3. Johnson, Ecklund and Tupper voted to introduce Ordinance 2024-14; Assembly Vice President Tyson Cox and Assemblymembers Kelly Cooper, Bill Elam, Brent Hibbert and Ryan Tunseth voted against introducing the ordinance. Assemblymember Peter Ribbens was absent from the meeting.

Johnson said he supported the tobacco tax bill because he wanted to discourage children and young people from smoking. He said introducing a tax was unlikely to make people quit smoking, but he had reason to believe a tax could reduce the likelihood of young people taking up smoking.

“There will be some kids who won’t get addicted to tobacco because we raised the price,” he said. “It’s worth it to me.”

Opponents of the ordinance, including Tunseth, Elam and Cox, all said the two ordinances would require the municipality to step outside its purview and assume health and social responsibilities that, as a second-class municipality, it cannot and should not have.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said during discussion of the ordinance that the borough should not make efforts to police citizens’ decisions if those decisions do not impact others. Raising taxes to discourage people from smoking would run counter to that goal, he said.

“This is a dangerous crossroads in the Kenai Peninsula Borough,” he said. “We have chosen to be a second-class district. We must be on guard and take action against these voracious services.”

Without the funds secured by Order 2024-14, the child care subsidy proposed by Ecklund in Order 2024-15 was withdrawn and did not come to a vote in the Assembly. Both Johnson and Tupper, co-signers of the order, voted in favor of the withdrawal.

Ecklund reiterated that Ordinance 2024-15 is a way for the county to support the county’s economy by supporting new and existing child care centers.

“This is not about social benefits,” she said.

For more information on Ordinances 2024-14 and 2024-15, visit the District website at kpb.legistar.com.

Reach reporters Delcenia Cosman and Jake Dye at [email protected] or [email protected].

Speaker Brent Johnson speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)Speaker Brent Johnson speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Speaker Brent Johnson speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Assemblywoman Cindy Ecklund speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)Assemblywoman Cindy Ecklund speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Assemblywoman Cindy Ecklund speaks during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)


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