Governor’s Budget Earmarks Zero Dollars for Public Health Modernization

Disappointed members of Oregon’s Public Health Advisory Board drafted a statement to the Oregon Health Policy Board with copies to legislative leaders requesting the state fund public health modernization in the coming biennium – possibly from new tobacco and alcohol taxes.

An exhaustive analysis showed a need for $105 million a year on top of current spending to modernize Oregon’s state and local public health system, now ranked in the bottom five in the nation for funding. The Public Health Advisory Board drafted a $30 million plan to start the process in the 2017-2019 biennium.

But a $1.8 billion hole in the state’s budget left public health modernization with no funding in Gov. Kate Brown’s budget.

“The PHAB continues to believe that, especially in a very constrained fiscal environment, funding to begin public health modernization will yield tangible benefits for Oregonians. These benefits include improving the quality and length of lives, as well as healthcare cost savings resulting from prevention of chronic diseases and interruption of the spread of communicable diseases,” according to the statement.

Oregon lawmakers had asked the board to draft a 10-year roadmap for modernization that called out the need for additional resources.

The policy board hopes to fund modernization through an increase in cigarette taxes expected to bring in $21.5 million, a cigar tax that would add another $13.7 million and an increase in the current surcharge on distilled spirits to $1.00 per bottle, estimated to bring in $33.8 million.

“It’s the first time in decades Oregon considered a tax on alcohol,” said Lillian Shirley, director of public health for the Oregon Health Authority, who reported that 1,600 Oregonians die each year from alcohol‐related causes such as chronic diseases, acute poisoning, injury and perinatal causes. Higher alcohol prices are consistently related to fewer motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, less alcohol-impaired driving and less mortality from liver cirrhosis.

Vaping is another area Shirley thinks may be ripe for taxation, and described “troublesome trends particularly with eighth graders.”

Tobacco is responsible for 7,000 deaths a years, and “the most effective way to reduce tobacco use, especially among kids, is to limit access. And the best way to limit access is to raise the price of tobacco,” Shirley said.

Jan can be reached at [email protected].

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