Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Your Civic Duty: Drink and Smoke

Yesterday the Revenue Committee cowardly defaulted on its promise to actually consider, debate and vote on a stack of bills to raise taxes. Too many of you let them know what you think, so instead of getting the message and refusing to raise taxes, they simply postponed their contribution to Taxmageddon. 

Not all of our legislators express such shame over their desire to grab more of our money. Some of them are open and honest about it, and for that they deserve recognition. An honest statist is more respectable than a dishonest conservative. 

Some of those statist tax hikers, in turn, are unabashedly proud of wanting to raise the most morally sleazy taxes we have, such as taxes on addictive and medically destructive products. Behold, Representative Connolly from Laramie:
Wyoming legislators are considering raising the tax on cigarettes by an additional $1 per pack and about $10 per carton. The Legislature’s revenue committee on Monday decided to forward discussion on the tax bill to their December meeting, where the committee will decide if they should recommend it to the full Legislature. Democratic Rep. Cathy Connolly says the bill would raise the cigarette tax to about the national average, and it would generate an additional $26 million for the state each year. The state’s current cigarette tax of 60 cents is lower than every neighboring state except Idaho.
In other words, be a good citizen, smoke 'em as fast as you can so you can provide the state government with more tax revenue. While you're at it, stop by the drive-thru liquor store and pick up a Jack Daniels. That way, Representative Connolly and other friends of addiction taxes will raise you to the skies. 

And your taxes, too.

When you are at the grocery store, put away that diet coke or lemonade you were planning on having with dinner, and get a bottle of wine instead. There is no tax on food in this state, and no welfare statist would probably suggest it either (without finding a way to only tax "the rich" on food), but since we do tax alcohol - and tax hikers like Representative Connolly want to raise that tax - you can be a good boy or girl tonight by downing a few beers, or a couple of big glasses of wine, instead of something non-alcoholic.

I remember a time when a tax on cigarettes was sold as a means to reduce consumption of an unhealthy product. Back in the day when the global-warming myth was born, a similar idea was used to raise the gasoline tax: it would discourage people from driving around in gas guzzlers. Then politicians got used to those tax revenues, and suddenly taxes on tobacco and alcohol were no longer there to discourage consumption - but to feed virtuous causes such as the SCHIP program. Remember when President Clinton wanted to raise the federal tax on cigarettes for that very purpose? At one point, the American Association of Pediatricians actually came out in favor of that very idea. Yes, there are physicians who believe that some people should destroy their health to provide health insurance to children. 

Taxes on unhealthy or morally questionable products provide the best litmus test out there of what is really important to a politician. One of the big selling points for the legalization of marijuana in Colorado was actually the tax revenue it was going to bring in. Some of the revenue from that tax has then been used for drug prevention programs at schools; in order to be able to tell people they should not use drugs, politicians in Colorado need some people to use drugs in the first place. 

Perhaps Representative Connolly and her tax-hiking friends in the legislature would want to legalize marijuana here in Wyoming, so it can be taxed and help pay for drug prevention and health care? 

A few years ago a gubernatorial candidate in Maine wanted to significantly raise the tax on alcohol. The money was going to pay for an expansion of the state's community college system. The message was clear: if you want your kid to go to college, you better start boozing up - especially if you don't make a lot of money and therefore, in a state like Maine, don't pay very much in income tax.

But why stop at raising tobacco and alcohol taxes? Why stop at legalizing marijuana? If there are no moral objections to taxation, why not let gambling lose across Wyoming? In states like Pennsylvania, and Maryland, gambling has become a relevant source of tax revenue. Since those states obviously also have cigarette and alcohol taxes, parents planning on saving up for their kids' college or their own retirement need to heed the call from the welfare statists: pull that cash out of the bank, head for the casino, buy a few packs of Camel and smoke them up while betting on odd numbers at the roulette table. Celebrate your wins with a double daiquiri. Let a couple of tequilas wash away your self pity over losing your savings.

Rejoice in watching government's tax coffers fill up. 

The problem is that they never fill up fast enough. While we are wasting our money - and ourselves - on medically, socially and culturally harmful products to help pay for government, that same government just keeps coming back for more. Where does it stop? What harmful products is government not willing to tax? If it is acceptable, even virtuous, to tax tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and gambling to pay for government on a permanent basis, then were is the line? Is there a scenario under which the tax hikers would legalize brothels for taxation purposes? 

What? Brothels? Here in Wyoming??

Don't laugh. One of the arguments behind raising the tourism tax is that some 80 percent of it is paid for by visitors from other states. If we want tourists to come here so we can tax them, does it matter why they come here? Brothels in Nevada pay taxes to their respective counties, with at least one county pulling in about a cool half a million dollars a year from its SOBs.* Not to mention all the indirect tax revenue that patrons produce when they stay at motels, fill up on gas, eat at local restaurants and buy a sixpack of Coors. 

This is admittedly a cynical discussion. However, there is a very serious underlying issue here: to what length will our elected officials go as they trawl for new tax revenue in morally muddy waters? How deep, how far, are they willing to go just to avoid having to align government with what taxpayers can afford? 

Do we want children's education to depend on how many future lung-cancer patients we produce? 

Or are we willing to put a foot down, say no to morally questionable or turpitudinous taxes - and instead pursue:

-Real school choice in K-12 education, which would cut the cost of education by up to 50 percent, maintain or improve quality and create thousands of new private-sector jobs;
-Medicaid vouchers, allowing enrollees to buy insurance across state lines, while significantly reducing costs and expanding access to health care;
-Criminal justice reform concentrating resources to violent and hardened criminals, while giving non-violent offenders a path back to legal life;
-Infrastructure reform, with a toll on I-80 and tax money concentrated to neglected highways;
-Welfare reform that brings in private charities and private donations while emphasizing the dignity of self reliance; and
-A complete overhaul of state and local regulations that currently get in the way of business operations and investment in Wyoming;

do we have the backbone to do that?
*) Sex Oriented Business, a term coined by opponents to strip clubs in Utah during a battle over the legalization of such clubs in Salt Lake City.

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