Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pennsylvania Legislators Calling on Smokers to Fund Public Education for Philadelphia Children

"Support public education: Buy cigarettes."

That might as well be the slogan for T-shirts that come out of the Pennsylvania legislature's solution to the problem of adequately funding Philadelphia's public schools.

Faced with a $93 million budget deficit for Philadelphia's school system, state legislators have decided to ask smokers to make up the budget deficit by providing extra tax revenue to support public education.

According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "The tax, anticipated to bring in $1.6 million per week, could raise $45 million this year and $83 million in the first full year. The Philadelphia School District has a $93 million budget deficit."

The Rest of the Story

I have no problem with a $2 per pack cigarette tax in Philadelphia to reduce smoking rates and to fund an aggressive anti-smoking campaign that would also provide money for research to prevent and treat smoking-related diseases and subsidize the treatment of smoking-related diseases. However, the idea of making public education permanently dependent upon continued high sales of cigarettes is bordering on insane.

For one thing, it puts the government in the business of promoting smoking. It removes any incentive for the legislature to support any strong actions to reduce smoking. Were that to happen, the Philadelphia school system would go under. Does it not seem somewhat perverse that in order to support public education for Philadelphia children, we need to hope that people continue to smoke at high rates?

The Pennsylvania governor and legislators are grown adults, and they should be able to deliver a budget that finds $93 million to fund the Philadelphia School District without tying that funding permanently to cigarette smoking. They should be forced into a closed chamber and not allowed to come out until they come up with the needed funding in a way that doesn't force smokers to shoulder the burden of supporting public education and tie such funding to continuing high rates of smoking.

Hint: The solution isn't too difficult. Pennsylvania corporations are enjoying $2.4 billion in annual tax breaks. Closing a fraction of those loopholes would fully fund the Philadelphia school system.

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