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A Non-Smoker's Opposition to Proposition 29

by Brent Mead / /

Ballot measure season is nearly upon us on with the first measure being a whopping $700 million tax hike on the June 5 California primary ballot.

As the tax-hikers put it;

"My decision is easy any time I have to choose between tobacco companies and cancer researchers, doctors who treat cancer and public health experts who try to prevent cancer."

- Dan Morain, Sacramento Bee

My decision is equally easy any time I have to choose between an agenda-driven, celebrity-run, tax hike proposal and defending hardworking taxpayers, I side with the taxpayers.

Dan says tobacco is different. But it really isn't. Tobacco taxes are a gateway to broad-based tax increases on all of us, smokers or no. They disproportionately hurt the poor and are simply bad tax policy.

Proposition 29 would raise cigarette taxes by $1 per pack and direct roughly $700 million of revenue to cancer research grants, facility improvements, tobacco use prevention, law enforcement, and finally back-filling lost revenue to current programs relying on tobacco funding.

That last part is critical to why I, as a non-smoker, oppose efforts like Prop 29. Tobacco use across the country is declining. Over the past five years, cigarette use has fallen 17 percent nationally. Propping up an entirely new bureaucracy reliant on tobacco funds is a dangerous proposition for taxpayers. 

Look no further than in 2008 when California attempted to tie a $1.75 per pack tax increase to a ramp-up of state health care spending. The state's Legislate Analyst’s Office noted that tobacco revenues "would decline over time because of the well-established ongoing erosion of smoking activity..." They further estimated that due to natural trends and the decline of usage because of higher taxes, program funding would fall short by $300 million to $1.5 billion within five years. Or more simply, tobacco revenues would not be sufficient to sustain high levels of spending necessitating more broad-based taxes on non-smokers, or spending cuts.

More than anything, right now California needs to face the seriousness of its fiscal insanity. This week, Governor Brown warned of a nearly $10 billion deficit this year. The state cannot afford to create these expensive programs built on an unstable financial footing. Taxpayers, whether they smoke or not, should be wary of Proposition 29.