2012: Prop 29

I'm of two minds about Prop 29, the tobacco tax initiative.

Here's what's wrong with the ballot initiative process. More cancer research: great idea. Higher taxes: great idea. But: limiting the tax revenue generated by this measure to cancer research, anti-smoking programs and tobacco law enforcement is a bad idea; the money belongs in the general fund.

The whole point of representative government is to assure that tax revenues are allocated fairly across all needs and services and interests. Past initiatives have already made hash of the California budget process; do we want to make it worse?

Cancer research is vitally important, but is relatively well-funded; other diseases that are equally costly to society get far fewer dollars. Even limiting ourselves to a discussion of what to do about the harm caused by tobacco, we have to take account of the fact that Prop 29 does nothing to mitigate the huge medical costs already resulting from past and current smoking, and that's the point: We elect representatives to make those decisions; maybe anti-smoking programs are already well-enough funded -- they certainly appear to be -- but medical costs are under-addressed (they certainly appear to be); an informed legislature should make those choices.

Also: a $1 tax is insufficient, given the costs of tobacco to society; a referendum, if successful, will almost certainly close the door on higher taxes on tobacco products in the future.

Plus, this decision will be made by the tiny percentage of voters that bothers to turn out tomorrow, nothing like a majority.

Explanation of Prop 29 in the official CA state voter guide.

1 comment:

Michael J. McFadden said...

85% voting to impose a tax on 15% seems somewhat unAmerican.

What if the US held a vote to avoid having to bail California out of its 360 BILLION dollar debt by imposing an extra 25% sales tax on all Californians' purchases? California is about 15% of the US population so it would be the same sort of vote. How could they complain if they voted something like Prop 29 in? It would "be for their own good" after all.

This tax will also force smokers to pay for a campaign to increase FUTURE taxes on themselves as part of "tobacco prevention." Did you ever hear of any other minority group getting hit with a tax to be spent on raising their taxes?

If I was a California smoker and this tax went through, I would be strongly tempted to never buy another legal cigarette in the state again -- even if the black market prices were HIGHER than the legitimate ones! Of course the black market is always cheaper -- and this tax will double its size and make cigarettes far more available to children; but the Antismokers don't really care about that: the point is to fill their own coffers while playing a social engineering game. Shock "the rats" by throwing them outside in lousy weather, and then shock them again by taking what they value (their money) if they engage in "inappropriate behavior" (buying cigarettes.)

If this tax DOES pass, I think it may have some very pronounced "unintended consequences" out there.

Michael J. McFadden,
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

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