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Proponents Ignite Plan to Bump Cigarette Tax to Lower Tuition

New revenues would provide for $62.53 million to Idaho public universities and colleges (the approximate equivalent of 25 percent of tuition) and $6.25 million to the community colleges.

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Calling the 170 percent increase in tuition and fees at Idaho public universities and colleges in the past 15 years "repugnant to freedom and opportunity," a citizen-driven ballot initiative has been launched to reduce tuition by 25 percent over two years. Funding would come from a new $1.50 cigarette tax—on top of the current 57-cents-per-pack tax in Idaho.

Supporters of the initiative said the extra revenue would provide for $62.53 million to Idaho public universities and colleges (the approximate equivalent of 25 percent of tuition) and $6.25 million to the community colleges.

Organizers said there's another significant side-effect to their initiative: By increasing the cigarette tax 163 percent, they're projecting a big drop in cigarette consumption, thus saving Idaho an estimated $440 million related to long-term health care costs.

The so-called StopTuititionHikes.com Act, which would require voter approval, is intended to reduce average student loan repayment terms by a little more than nine years, saving students $68.58 million in interest in addition to $62.53 million in principal over the life of the loan (assuming a repayment term of 24 years for current students).

Organizers also point to what they called poor access to the state's public universities, labeling Idaho's rate of 45 percent of high-school grads going directly to a four-year or community college "abysmal."

Idaho's 57-cents-per-pack cigarette tax is the eighth lowest rate in the nation. Multiple attempts to raise the tax by the Idaho Legislature have been snuffed out in spite of proponents argument the extra funds were desperately need for education or health and welfare funding.

StopTuitonHikes.Com organizers have until April 30, 2016 to garner enough signatures in their effort to make it to the November 2016 ballot.