As of Monday, November 9, 2015
Who isn’t for making an Idaho college education more affordable? And if you do that by bumping up the price of a pack of smokes, who’s to care? After all, it’s a dirty habit, it’s bad for your health and, well, who likes those smokers anyway. Right?
Our “uneasy” meter started to jump recently with notice on just such a proposal through Nampa-based stoptuitionhikes.com, which calls for a $1.50 cigarette tax and a 30 percent tax increase on other tobacco products, and a 22 percent tuition reduction to Idaho’s public university students by means of an across-the board scholarship. The endgame here is $7 million in additional funding to the state’s community colleges and $7 million in additional funding for the statewide tobacco cessation program.
The group looks to collect 47,623 signatures by April 30 to include this initiative on the November 2016 ballot.
Promoting better access to education is good, as is continuing efforts to reduce tobacco usage that is a significant public health issue. And many apparently agree with this group’s proposal, according to an Idaho Politics weekly poll that shows 65 percent of Idahoan respondents would “definitely” or “probably” vote for it; politically, these folks break down as 65 percent Republican, 60 percent Independent and 78 percent Democrat.
So what’s our problem? Well, bumping sin taxes for financial and political gain is lazy government; short-term thinking that victimizes a political disenfranchised minority whose voice and physical presence has been exiled from both public debate and increasingly more public places.
A sin tax hikes is so stinking easy. It gains proponents more points than they lose. Who gains here? Besides the pet project being funded through the increase, politicians earn clout and back slaps for problem solving, and governments gains more control through continued taxation.
Those thinking a tax increase will be a sword thrust into the tobacco industry’s side are wishful thinkers: They never see the imposed tax, to which the market adjusts, and product continues to sell off the shelves to a consumer base driven by its addiction that is now that much more expensive to feed.
But let’s get truly cynical here. With the income derived from sin taxes to fund and in some cases prop up programs, how motivated do you see your state legislators at getting behind substantive efforts to curtail tobacco (and while we’re on the subject, alcohol…) use and kill the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs? And if efforts to legalize marijuana ever come to fruition in the Gem State, don’t expect those same legislators to continue to fear the reefer when those new sin taxes come rolling into the public coffers.
While the end goals in this proposal promote a social good, they both are long-term problems needing more than the instant gratification of a short-term sin tax fix. Overall, this just leaves a bad taste in our mouths that we would reach these on the backs of those who in both their addiction and political clout have little to no voice in the matter.