The Colorado Senate on Thursday night rejected Gov. Jared Polis’ plan to ask voters to approve a uniform nicotine tax, with Democrats in the chamber overwhelmingly voting down the effort.
House Bill 1333 died on an unrecorded, division vote, with members in the chamber standing to signal if they are for or against the measure. The Colorado Sun counted just nine senators, all of them Democrats, in support in the 35-member chamber.
There are 19 total Democrats in the Senate.
“I was blindsided,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who brought the bill. “… I just don’t think it had a chance, being in the last few hours. I’m disappointed, but bills do die. I did think it had more votes.”
Polis and Democrats introduced the plan last week at a news conference, flanked by health officials and DaVita CEO Kent Thiry, hailing it as a solution to Colorado’s teen vaping problem and a way to cut back on tobacco use across the board.
But immediately Republicans came out against the effort, blasting the last-minute proposal. Big tobacco organizations hired lobbyists to fight the bill and launched a social media campaign to sway the public.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the state Senate early on signaled that they were skeptical.
When asked about why he announced the measure so late and with so much still left on the legislature’s calendar, Polis joked at his news conference last week: “With hundreds of bills to go, what’s one more bill?”
The legislation would have asked voters in November to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes to $2.49 from 84 cents and set a standard 62% tax on all nicotine products, including vaping fuel for the first time. An estimated $300 million in annual revenue from the tax would have been split between early childhood education and health care.
“I don’t object to any of the entities that would have been receiving the money,” said Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat who was one of the “no” votes Thursday night. “I think they are all exceptionally good causes and we need to just fund them. But what I don’t believe in is funding those very good policy considerations off a regressive tax that is unsustainable and irresponsible.”
Republicans in the Senate celebrated the measure’s demise.
“The governor’s 11th-hour tobacco and vaping tax proposal met the fate it deserved today,” their spokesman, Sage Naumann, said in a written statement.
In its own statement, Polis’ office stood by the measure, saying it would have reduced “our staggering rates of teen vaping” while sending much-needed money to early childhood education and efforts to reduce health care costs.
“The governor is disappointed by the decision to take this choice out of the hands of Colorado voters,” Polis’ office wrote in its statement.
Updated at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, May 3, 2019: This story has been updated to correct the bill number for the measure that would have asked voters to approve a uniform nicotine tax. It was House Bill 1333.