The tax people cometh (again)

This should not come as a surprise since it’s tried almost every year, but the so-called Maryland Health Care for All coalition once again is pitching to raise cigarette taxes by a dollar per pack. In last year’s case, the proposed funding would go to smoking cessation programs as well as “(programs) that address childhood obesity, long-term care for seniors, and improved access to health care services for Maryland families.”  All on the backs of people who choose to partake in a legal product; bear in mind a tax on cigarettes is among the most regressive out there which may explain why these bills rarely get beyond the hearing stage.

And if it seems like only yesterday we raised the cigarette tax by a dollar a pack, you’d be somewhat right on a state level. The 2007 Special Session yielded a bill which, among many other taxes, was supposed to bring to the state treasury an extra $146 million by fiscal year 2012 (which ended this June.) That tobacco tax went into effect at the beginning of 2008, but in the FY2009-11 period, revenue turned out to be about $84 million short of projections (based on numbers from the state.) And Maryland isn’t alone in finding this out.

They’ve also found out that people will vote with their feet, whether on a small scale (it’s an easy drive from here to Virginia, with U.S. 13 passing by a number of cigarette outlets in the first few miles across the border) or a large one. State Comptroller Peter Franchot noted earlier this summer that bootleg cigarette seizures had skyrocketed over the last two years. With a difference of $1.70 a pack, the incentive is certainly there for easy money and many feel it’s worth the risk – yes, the state seized $2 million worth of cigarettes but perhaps ten times that amount made it across the border unmolested. (That doesn’t count the people who might get five or ten cartons just across the state line.) As is often the case, Maryland’s loss is Virginia’s gain.

Yet the coalition led by Maryland Health Care for All wishes to double down on this mistaken notion that people will be priced out of cigarettes. Instead, the tax will only serve as a means for those employed by the state to have their pencil-pushing jobs paid for by a group which usually doesn’t pay a whole lot in taxes. If the idea is one of taxing the poor, our state is certainly working toward nirvana between expansion of gambling, the additional sales taxes on alcohol and cigars passed last year, and the bid to increase taxes on cigarettes yet again.

As always, I have to say that I find it the utmost in hypocrisy that the state tries so hard to tell people not to smoke or drink, but depends on the usage of these legal substances to produce hundreds of millions of dollars for the state to spend. (Yet they wouldn’t legalize marijuana which, if treated like tobacco, would likely raise hundreds of millions more and as an added bonus clean out the court system of hundreds of otherwise law-abiding citizens.)

But one thing about liberal ideas in Maryland: their sponsors are nothing if not persistent. They’ll happily introduce the same bill for several years in a row and slowly gather support from the brainwashed. If another cigarette tax doesn’t pass this year, they’ll quietly try again in 2015 – 2014 is an election year so we may be spared. In the end, it eventually passes and a little more of our freedom and spare change is stolen away.

By the way, this writer doesn’t smoke and has mild asthma. But I’m not going to deny someone else the right to use a legal substance just because I don’t choose to.