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Running against the wind

Tuition reduction, cigarette tax proposal a long-term, difficult improvement



I am 29 years old, but I have been around public policy long enough to know that it is easier to oppose an idea than to build policy that improves lives. Why? Two reasons:

• Opposition is faster: Less accountability to the public, to staff, and to partners;

• There is no silver bullet: No policy solves every aspect of every complex problem.

I know that, the institutions know that, the prospective donors know that, and that is why a 29-year-old kid is fighting against the tide with his last $4,000 along with a rag-tag team of unpaid or underpaid staffers, and a few hundred volunteers.

David Rauzi expressed cynicism [Nov. 11 editorial]. I don’t blame him. He knows how these things go. Normally, you latch onto a wealthy interest group, you ask them what they want, they tell you, you get a big check, and the policy lacks any true purpose. That’s the game, he knows it, I know it.

We did not play that game. We set the policy and built grassroots support, first. Only then did we reach out for critiques and ideas. This policy is for Idahoans, not special interests.

We Cannot Afford to Lose

If we fail, there is no Idaho economy. Period. Tuition has tripled since 2000, it is a tax on the middle class, it is destroying these kids’ lives, and we’re all going to end up paying for it.

Here are the outcomes for our high school graduates:

• Five in 10 kids can’t pay to go to college and are more likely to work low-paying service jobs

• Four in 10 kids go to college, rack up a sizeable student debt, and drop out for lack of funds;

• One in 10 kids completes college with student debt figures in the $60,000 range.

$60,000? Yes. Official stats don’t include plus loans, the majority of a student’s debt balance.

The success story is the kid with $60,000 in debt. That’s scary. Do you think the one in 10 kids who completes college with $60,000 in debt is staying in Idaho? They cannot pay off those loans if they do; Idaho has the lowest wages in the country. So how many of those 10 kids can buy a house or start a business in Idaho? The answer is zero.

What does that mean? Those houses being built in your community — they go vacant. When those houses go vacant, your home value drops. When your home value drops, you end up underwater on your mortgage. When that happens, you walk away from your house lowering your neighbor’s home value. When people’s homes lose value, they cannot buy things. And when people cannot buy things, everyone starts to lose jobs. Sound familiar?

If you like having a house or a job then you like what we’re doing.

But Why A Cigarette Tax?

I am a smoker. I stopped one week ago, but I’m still in that camp. This gives students a chance and it saves lives. That’s why I wrote this policy.

Why this tax for tuition? They are related. Every pack of cigarettes costs Idaho $15 in healthcare costs, we tax it at 57 cents. Who has covered the difference? The students.

Since 2009, university funding dropped 20 percent despite a growing 18-29 year-old population — that’s why tuition increased.

Since 2009, healthcare costs increased 26 percent. The primary cost driver? Cigarette related illness.

Our kids are subsidizing the tobacco industry.

Still, can smokers afford it? Yes. Other states prove that a one-time, hearty cigarette tax increase coupled with expanded smoking cessation support reduces smoking rates.

Two great case studies are Arizona and Utah. Two weeks ago, the Statesman reported Arizona’s smoking rate dropped more than expected after a similar policy. Why? It wasn’t punitive; it just knocked off the low hanging fruit.

Here, we’d see a 20 percent reduction with 9,000 adults quitting, 12,000 kids never starting, and 6,400 lives being saved. Individual savings from packs not purchased match 1:1 with the new tax. Further, the state saves $400 million in long-term healthcare costs to help those in need.

Giving kids a chance helps Idaho. $4 per pack cigarettes does not.

Bill Moran is the founder of Nampa-based Stoptuitionhikes.com .



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