Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Editorial Notes Government's Addiction to Tobacco Revenues

An editorial in the Waterbury Republican-American (CT) cautions against the increasingly common practice of using cigarette tax revenues to fund critical government programs. The newspaper argues that relying upon cigarette taxes to fund ongoing programs creates a state dependence upon smoking by its residents, similar to an addiction to cigarettes themselves.

According to the editorial: "All together, taxes on smoking and drinking plus gambling revenues [in Connecticut] provided a hair over $1 billion in fiscal 2005, a year in which the state posted a surplus of $602 million. In other words, in fiscal 2005, money from smoking, gambling and booze made the difference between Connecticut showing a profit and running a deficit of more than $400 million. In fiscal 2006, the surplus came in at $925 million — uncomfortably close to the full amount the state collected from drinking, smoking and gambling — and the legislature promptly spent nearly all of that surplus on new programs that will have to be sustained from now on. Here's another way of looking at it: By committing "sin-tax" revenues to ongoing programs, the legislature has deliberately turned Connecticut's government into a gambling, nicotine and alcohol junkie. Lawmakers would be well advised to start weaning the state from such addictions before an unforeseen crisis forces the state to go cold turkey."

The Rest of the Story

This is an important argument and it is the primary reason why I think it is a great mistake for Congressional lawmakers to be proposing an increase in the cigarette tax to fund an expansion of SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program).

While I think it would be important to expand children's health insurance coverage, I think there are far wiser ways to generate the needed revenue. Using cigarette taxes to do it is the least sensible option.

I hope that anti-smoking groups will reconsider their position and not force us into a situation where we will be dependent upon smokers to provide health insurance for our nation's children.

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