The Omaha City Council has approved a controversial plan to tax local sales of tobacco products to finance millions in funding for a new cancer treatment and research center.
Five sponsors of the proposal — Pete Festersen, Garry Gernandt, Ben Gray, Chris Jerram and Tom Mulligan — each voted to pass a new city tax on tobacco sales, along with an agreement that grants the vast majority of any revenue generated to the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The council again reduced the scale of the proposed tax. Instead of adding 4.5 percent to local gross sales of tobacco products as planned, the council approved a 3 percent tax after considering tobacco sales data provided by Phillip Morris.
Council members Jean Stothert and Franklin Thompson voted against the measure. Stothert tried, unsuccessfully, to place the proposal to a public vote and delay the council's decision.
The $370 million cancer center project proposal is sizable by Omaha's standards. The estimated cost is more than double the figure spent on UNMC's two Durham Research Towers.
UNMC officials say the project will require more private fundraising than any other building project in the state's history.
But representatives of the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association and local retailers say they expect a dramatic drop in business for convenience stores and supermarkets that sell cigarettes because smokers would travel outside the city.