Hopefully, we can all agree that funding early childhood education should be a national priority. The question is: where do we get those funds?
Last week, President Obama announced his answer: from smokers. The President proposed a 94 cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax, with revenue going to support a much needed expansion of early childhood education.
And predictably, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) applauded.
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But here is why that knee-jerk reflex that CTFK exhibits any time a tax increase is discussed is short-sighted and premature.
In funding early childhood education from cigarette sales revenues, the President is forever tying the financial solvency of early childhood education on continuing high sales of cigarettes. If cigarette consumption were to drastically fall (as we should all hope it will), then the revenues for early childhood education would drastically fall as well, and the program would lose its fiscal solvency.
This creates a huge incentive for Congress, and the President, not to take any action that would substantially reduce cigarette consumption. For example, it would create an incentive to bury electronic cigarettes somewhere under the Beltway so they cannot compete with the traditional cigarette products.
Moreover, the scheme is regressive and unfair because it balances the budget on the most needy, rather than most well-off, members of society. If we have a budget shortfall and need to find revenues to fund a much-needed early childhood education program, shouldn't that money come from the wealthiest 1% and from corporations, rather than from individuals who tend to be at the lower end of the income spectrum?
Sure, I understand that it is a lot more politically advantageous to go after smokers than it is to go after corporations and the wealthiest citizens. But it is also uncourageous. And it is certainly not leadership. Nor does it show vision.
What it does, sadly, is continue to exaggerate the income disparity between the richest and the poorest in our society. And saddest of all, it forces the poorest in our society to pay for their own benefit programs - programs that should be provided by the government to all citizens.
Unfortunately, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is just all too ready to buy into this political propaganda and to jump on the train being conducted by communities of privilege that runs ramshod through poorer communities.
Should early childhood education be funded?
Should it be funded by smokers?
Who should fund it?
The wealthiest 1% of Americans, along with corporations that are enjoying inappropriate tax breaks.
Should the cigarette tax be raised?
Sure, but only if the revenue is used to directly benefit those who are bearing its burden. Raise the cigarette tax and use the money to fund anti-smoking programs and services, research, and treatment for smokers, especially in poorer communities and communities of color, and the policy is no longer regressive but progressive. It could reduce, rather than exacerbate existing income and health inequities.
Why is it that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids always acts as if everyone is white, everyone is middle- or higher-income, and everyone is living in communities of privilege?