(Last-minute shenanigans by Oklahoma conservative legislators at the state Capitol: The legislature passed an obviously unconstitutional bill making it illegal for doctors to perform abortions in Oklahoma, and legislators introduced a bill that would force schools to provide separate restroom and shower facilities to students who object on religious grounds to sharing them with transgendered students. Another bill criticizes the Obama administration for its recent statement on ensuring transgendered students can use restrooms at schools with which they identify on a gender basis. The bill also calls for the impeachment of President Barack Obama. But there’s still no state budget as I write this.—Kurt Hochenauer)
(Update: Gov. Mary Fallin today vetoed the unconstitutional anti-abortion bill.)
(Later in this post: “This is a long-winded prelude to encourage Oklahoma House Democrats to stand their ground against the cigarette tax unless it’s part of a larger package to expand Medicaid using federal dollars. Both are tied together in a health sense. Accepting additional Medicaid money from the federal government is far more important at this point than the uncertainty of how much revenue a hike in cigarette taxes would produce for Oklahoma.”—Kurt Hochenauer)
It has long been established that, overall, people who smoke cigarettes are less educated and and have less money than the general population so where are the cries of “regressive tax” as the Oklahoma legislature considers a $1.50 hike in taxes on a pack of smokes?
— Tulsa's Channel 8 (@KTULNews) May 19, 2016
Here’s the information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that makes the point about the demographics.
Think about someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day seven days a week. That’s not uncommon. The additional adds up to $10.50 a week or around $42 a month or around $500 a year. That’s a huge tax increase for lower-income people, especially when its added to the normal burden of sales tax and income tax that people pay to state city governments.
Meanwhile, State Question 779, a November ballot issue that seeks to raise the state sales tax by a penny on the dollar to bolster education and give teacher raises, has been widely denounced from some people on the left as a regressive tax because, yes, lower-income people spend more of their money on a percentage basis for basic sustenance than higher-income people.
The math for the 1 percent increase for education works out like this at the grocery store: It would add in sales taxes fifty cents for $50 in groceries, a dollar for $100 in groceries, and two dollars for $200 in groceries. What the state would get in return for this hike is better funded education systems, which may do more than anything else to help reduce the number of lung cancer patients here.
I’m not in favor of smoking, and I’m not necessarily opposed to the cigarette tax proposed initially by Gov. Mary Fallin and conservative legislators, but I do see a mathematical and logical contradiction in the response to it. I realize the counter argument is that heavy smoking is terribly unhealthy and burdens our society with a lot of money in heath costs, yet it’s also an addiction in many cases that needs to be taken seriously and treated rather than stigmatized or supposedly taxed out of existence.
This is a long-winded prelude to encourage Oklahoma House Democrats to stand their ground against the cigarette tax unless it’s part of a larger package to expand Medicaid. Both are tied together in a health sense. Accepting additional Medicaid money from the federal government is far more important at this point than the uncertainty of how much revenue a hike in cigarette taxes would produce for Oklahoma.
I know that the additional tax on cigarettes is partially to encourage people to stop smoking, but then, of course, it makes no logical sense to consider it a reliable funding source for government in the first place. If people stop smoking, the tax revenue from cigarettes plummets. Shouldn’t all the money generated go into smoking cessation efforts? Why aren’t more people saying this? It’s borderline surreal, but it always gets that way at the end of an Oklahoma legislative session.
Conservative politicians here have broken this state with regressive income tax cuts that primarily benefited the rich and with regressive tax breaks for oil and gas companies that primarily benefited top executives and major shareholders. Now they want to tax people addicted to nicotine in order to mitigate in a minor way the financial disaster they created under the guise of a health initiative. Democratic legislators should hold firm for federal Medicaid expansion under these circumstances.
(Update: House Speaker Jeff Hickman said today there will be no more votes on the cigarette tax.)
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) May 17, 2016