The South Carolina Legislature has passed a tax increase on cigarettes. The tax increase is fifty cents per pack. Gov. Sanford has said he will veto the bill. I hope he does. The following are my reasons and my suggestions:
1) This is a tax on the poor. Enough said. If you increase taxes on a product marketed to the poor and minorities, you are creating a situation where the gap between the rich and poor increases. Economic inequality is the greatest threat in this country and it is in the state’s interest to end this disparity. This tax will have the opposite effect.
2) One of South Carolina’s biggest cash crops is tobacco. It seems hypocritical to give aid to tobacco farmers in one situation, while in another situation rallying against the same product. Have the implications of this increased tax been fully researched? What will be the effect on the farmer’s bottom line? Will we increase our revenue only to spend it to keep farms out of bankruptcy?
3) “Sin” taxes are wrong. Let’s face it: there are many opposed to cigarette smoking on moral grounds, while others just don’t like it. One way or the other, you cannot set up a system of moral inequality via the tax code. While I understand the increased cost of health care due to tobacco related illness, we are not taxing other vices which have equal harmful health effects. So, in the spirit of taxing vice, I have the following suggestions. Increase the tax on all alcoholic beverages. The revenue will offset the burdensome cost of drunk driving which includes increased police force, court appointed legal council, and incarceration costs. Overlooked in this “moral” debate is alcohol related illness; so, let us not forget that alcohol increases chances of certain cancers, heart disease, and liver disease. While we are on the topic of these diseases, let us not forget America’s favorite past time of overeating. If we want to tax things which increase health risks, we should increase taxes on any single serving food that has more than 10 fat grams and 150 calories. We should also tax all sugared beverages. Ice cream would be a logical choice for a tax increase given it’s popularity. The revenue stream from this tax alone could solve our budget crisis! The point is, you cannot choose one unhealthy habit to tax and claim that you are doing it for the health of the state when many other equally unhealthy habits are not considered in the same light.
In the end, this tax is ludicrous. The legislature, due in part to their lack of ability to balance a budget, is looking for an easy fix to the budget shortfall. There is no easy fix. Raising taxes is the unfortunate solution, unless we cut government programs. It amazes me that people are against releasing non-violent offenders from prison, which will shave at least ninety-two million dollars in operating costs off the budget over the next five years, but do not want an increased tax burden to deal with the increasing population.
Maybe it is time to realize that we do not get to have our cake and eat it without paying the bill. Our State provides roads, police, prisons, and a boat load of social services that need tax money to run; however, everyone who uses these services should bear the tax burden, not a select demographic who choose one habit over another.