Business owners fired up over Dayton's tobacco tax

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton emphasizes a point as he speaks to about 150 people attending a town hall meeting Monday, March 25 at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, Minn.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Business owners challenged Gov. Mark Dayton on taxes Monday at a Moorhead town hall meeting.

Most speakers praised the DFL governor's work on a variety of issues, but a couple of business owners complained that the governor's plan to raise the cigarette tax by 94 cents a pack will send their customers across the border to North Dakota.

Frank Orton, owner of 15 convenience stores including one in Moorhead, said, "When you lose those tobacco customers, those guys and gals that come in every single morning and get their coffee, their pop, they buy their gas, they buy their car washes... we're all of a sudden looking at running our business on 75 percent-60 percent of our customer base. And that's pretty tough to do."

Dayton says a cigarette tax is designed to convince people to stop smoking. He told Orton he is willing to consider adding tobacco products to legislation that equalizes taxes for businesses along state borders.

"If people can go across the river and buy their cigarettes in Fargo for whatever less the tax difference is it's obviously undermining the intent of our raising the tax at all because they can just go over there and not be affected by it," Dayton said.

The town hall at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead is one of several that Dayton has scheduled to discuss budget issues. Upcoming town halls will be in St. Cloud and Rochester.

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