Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sin Taxes Are The Cowardly Way To Raise Taxes

Sin taxes, which for the sake of this post should be considered as taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, have been a pet peeve of mine for awhile. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the idea of raising taxes on these products when the money is used exclusively for paying for the results of using them. Paying for smoking related health care issues with cigarette taxes or paying for drunk driving related activities and prevention with alcohol tax just make sense. What bothers me is when users of those products are taxed at higher rates to the benefit of those that do not pay those taxes because it is easier to sell.

This first appeared on my radar in the early 90's when I lived in Northern Ohio and the city of Cleveland was looking to finance what became Jacobs Field (I still can't call it by its new name of Progressive Field). One of the options they used was a sin tax which I felt placed a much higher financial burden on smokers and drinkers of Cuyahoga County to pay for the stadium though they would be only a small percentage of those benefiting from it.

Fast forward 15 years and again a sin tax is in my sights. I touched on it briefly here but the new children's health insurance bill aka SCHIP just got a $33 billion infusion paid for by raising the tax on cigarettes $.61 a pack. I personally have no problem with SCHIP and in fact support this increase in funding and coverage but again must ask why is it being funded by exclusively by smokers?

Does smoking mean that your children will automatically be needing SCHIP funded health coverage? Do non-smoking families never need health care funded by the program? Of course the answer to both questions is no so why do smokers have to foot the bill exclusively?

Because smoking is no longer in vogue and it is the easiest way for our elected officials to increase taxes without getting crucified by their constituents that's why and herein lies the problem for me.

If a program or service is deemed worthwhile and it is also determined that it cannot be funded by cutting somewhere else, at least have the backbone to make everyone foot the bill instead of making an increasingly smaller minority pay for it because it is an easier sell. Either it is worthy of all taxpayers or it isn't.

Oh and finally if you think this is just another smoker complaining about paying higher taxes, you would be wrong. I quit 2 years ago after South Dakota raised our cigarette taxes $1.00 a pack so this increase will not affect me at all. It does though point out the one good thing about sin taxes. If you raise them too much, the pool of those paying them dimishes greatly leaving our legislators with fewer politically safe ways to raise taxes.

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