Poll shows strong support for tobacco tax

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

As Oregon legislators wrestle with how to begin to close the budget gap, a coalition of health advocates has released a poll that finds strong support for a $1/pack increase in the state cigarette tax.

According to the poll:

The pollster - Davis, Hibbits & Midghall - surveyed 500 registered Oregon voters. Margin of error is 4.4%.

Here's the full poll memo. Hat tip to Jeff Mapes.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    How much of the budget gap would this tax close?

    How much would be in direct revenue form the tax, and how much (if any in the near term) savings are realized through reduction of health care costs to the state from (assumed) slight reduction of smoking rates?

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      According to Oregon DHS, 183 million packs last year.

      http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/news/2010news/2010-0422.pdf?ga=t

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        Thanks. So this is would close around just over 5% of the budget shortfall. (sigh)

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          I don't think we are going to find a "magic bullet" that is going to fix this. 5% is nothing to sneeze at IMO. Find a few more things like this and we have something significant.

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            Wasn't expecting a magic bullet, and agree that this is no a small amount of money. Just throws into sharp relief the scale of the budgetary mess we face.

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            How much of the budget gap would be closed if state employees paid a percentage (pick one) of the medical insurance for themselves and their dependents?

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              And how much of the gap would open again if their wages were equal to those for similar jobs in the private sector?

              Like so many on the right, you're only looking at one side of the equation. State employees trade higher wages for some better benefits, like better health insurance and retirement plans.

              You attack the side where they seem to be getting a good deal while ignoring the side where they aren't getting such a good deal.

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                According to the Oregon Labor Department, state employees don't trade higher wages for better benefits.

                http://www.qualityinfo.org/olmisj/ArticleReader?p_search=wage%20and%20private%20and%20state%20and%20federal&searchtech=6&itemid=00006781

                And Oregon State employees are the only state employees in the country that pay no part of their medical insurance costs.

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                  Sally, read the whole thing, and don't just stop at "In general, state and local employees across the nation tend to have higher wages and benefits than private employees."

                  Continue on to "One of the reasons average compensation tends to be higher for government employees is that the occupational mix for government employment is more concentrated in high-wage occupations."

                  There aren't a lot of people flipping burgers in state government.

                  Continue on to "Some of the difference in compensation is also likely explained by differences in age. Older workers tend to have more work experience and are therefore able to command a higher wage from employers. In comparing the age distribution of private and public sector workers, we see that public employees tend to be somewhat older. In fact, more than half (55.2%) of Oregon's government employees were age 45 or older in 2008, compared to 40 percent of private-sector workers. On the other end of the wage spectrum, individuals age 14 to 24 accounted for only 5 percent of government workers, but nearly 16 percent of private-sector workers."

                  Government employees make more money because they have more experience than private sector employees.

                  And then there's "Another area where public and private-sector workers differ is education. Although there is no data on the education levels of specific workers, we do know the educational requirements of jobs in both the public and private sectors. Of Oregon's private-sector jobs in 2006, three-fifths required only on-the-job training and one-fifth required a bachelor's degree or higher. In the public sector, two-fifths of jobs required only on-the-job training and another two-fifths required a bachelor's degree or higher."

                  They make more money because they're also better educated.

                  You did not provide an apples-to-apples comparison of private vs. public sector wages.

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                    I've read the whole thing, Michael. The public employee sector in Oregon is unsustainable. Don't you think Oregon's public employees should be contributing to their medical coverage as they do in every other state?

                    That "traded better benefits for lower wages" dog isn't going to hunt any more.

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                      Again, Sally, you're comparing apples to oranges.

                      The public workforce is different than the public workforce, as there are far fewer entry-level positions, and a higher percentage of the positions in the public workforce require an education.

                      The dog might not hunt, but I'm not a hunter, anyway, and curling up at my feet to keep me warm works just fine.

                      It's one thing to have an honest disagreement. It's quite another to be presented with evidence contrary to your beliefs and do the internet equivalent of screaming "nanananana".

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                        You haven't answered the question of whether Oregon state employees should be the only state employees in the nation to contribute nothing to their (extremely generous, by the way) medical coverage. I don't agree that I am comparing apples to oranges. I have read, again today, Kulongowski's most recent statements as well as the pro-forma dismissals from the union leaders. Quite honestly, the union leaders statements disgust me but there is nothing surprising in them, unlike those from Kulongowski. Twenty-five years ago low-level state workers were underpaid and I argued for more parity. The ship has tilted the opposite direction and I am making the opposite argument. I think the argument is going to make itself.

                        The public sector is well-paid and over-benefitted, and the (drastically slashed) private sector cannot afford it.

                        Period.

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                          Sally, how precious that you don't agree that you're comparing apples to oranges. How many times do I have to point out to you why the two groups are different?

                          Again, can you provide any evidence comparing compensation to SIMILAR groups of public and private workers? Just comparing an aggregate doesn't mean much.

                          I'm not answering your question because it's based on a faulty premise.

                          I don't know what compensation of state workers in other states looks like. I know that in this state a decision has been made in favor of increased benefits in lieu of higher wages.

                          Among those benefits is PERS, which has been a favorite bogeyman of the right, but there was actually a trade made many years ago -- a sweet PERS deal rather than a wage increase.

                          Rather than trying to cut benefits for public workers, and using false comparisons to bolster your case, how about trying to increase compensation for workers in the private sector?

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                            So, according to you, the comparisons of compensation for public and private sector employees in Oregon is meaningless without knowing how that compares with the same in 49 other states? Wow. WOW!

                            And instead of Kulongoski's urging to decrease the benefit packages for public employees, you want to increase compensation for private-sector employees? You mean, those left after the 150,000 jobs lost in the last couple of years?

                            Triple Wow. Good luck with that!

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                              No, I'm saying that if you're going to compare ONE aspect of compensation in comparison to other states, you need to actually look at the total compensation package.

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                                I see. Since I raised the issue that state of Oregon employees are the only ones in the nation that pay no part of their own or their dependents medical coverage, I must compare their compensation packages with those of other states.

                                Actually, I don't. Their compensation stacks up well, but that's beside the point. The point is that Oregon cannot afford what Oregon has either promised or has been doing.

                                The Oregonian has taken to doing a lot of good coverage on this critical issue. Here's a recent piece.

                                http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/10/hard_choices_oregon_state_work.html

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                                  Sally, this is just ridiculous.

                                  You're trying to claim that Oregon state employees are over compensated based on just one aspect of their compensation.

                                  How about if we look at it a different way: How wonderful that Oregon has taken the lead in this one aspect of employee compensation!

                                  Enough of this class warfare from the right and the politics of resentment.

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                                    Oregon has taken the lead in being the first state to pay 100 percent of their state employees medical benefits ... and an unsustainable retirement package to boot! Whoopee! I look forward the other 49 training up behind our engine roaring down the track ... the one that has also produced such stellar unemployment rates and below-average per-capita income for the private sector. But hey, we have a high minimum wage!

                                    As to "class warfare and the politics of resentment," allow me to gently point out that such is written every day here in reverse.

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                          There's no dubya in Kulongoski.

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                  Here's more of an apples-to-apples comparison:

                  http://www.slge.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={22748FDE-C3B8-4E10-83D0-959386E5C1A4}&DE={BD1EB9E6-79DA-42C7-A47E-5D4FA1280C0B}

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        When prices increase, smoking decreases. According to Tobacco Free Kids, and the tobacco industry, a 10% increase in price reduces smoking by 3-5%. So, this would be about a 20% increase in price, so I suspect a large decrease in sales.

        However...maybe that would also turn into fewer medical costs to be covered by the state and fewer kids starting to smoke (where price increases are particularly effective in decreasing use)

        Still, another $150 million, with decreases in medical care and decrease in tobacco use among kids sounds like a good thing all around.

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    “But I think that people at the high end -- people like myself -- should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we’ve ever had it.” Warren Buffett

    I like this idea too.

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      There is absolutely nothing legally preventing Warren Buffet or his soul-mate, Bill Gates Sr. from making healthy and regular donations to the federal and/or state government.

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        Why should Buffet voluntarily carry the load for the freeloading rich?

        The entire concept of taxes is shared obligation to pay for the services that society as a whole (especially the private sector) reap the benefits from.

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          and the top 10% are paying about 70% of the total. I'd call that paying more than their progressively shared obligation.

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    Generally, supporters of cigarette taxes would rather see smoking be completely banned. But, this is a smarter way of going about it than making it illegal, and I think that's reflected in the polling support.

    Now, I do have some doubts about the accuracy of that poll. I can't quite put my finger on it, though.

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      You can count me as one person who supports higher cigarette taxes, but who wouldn't ban them outright.

      I think you're setting up a straw man.

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    That's a regressive tax for you, right down to the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. The argument that smokers "cost everyone more" is spurious. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association two decades ago made the point that smokers cost society less than non-smokers do. It's a shocking argument and not frequently made but the studies have been supported in more than one arena.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-04-08-fda-tobacco-costs_N.htm

    I don't like taxes that single out a small slice of society to pay for programs that presumably benefit society at large.

    Speaking of large, where's the obesity tax?

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      The flaw in that studies assumptions are (among others) that smokers don't pay into the system such as Social Security, Medicare, etc. as long as non-smokers because they die sooner (which is where the claimed "savings" from smokers comes from.

      It also doesn't factor into lost productivity and days at work do to sickness because before smokers die earlier, they also get sicker more often and miss work.

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        The assumption is not that smokers do not pay into the systems as long. It is that they do not draw from the systems as long.

        There was more than one study in that link. And all of them showed that thin, healthy non-smokers "cost more" than smokers to the taxpaying public at large.

        Put that in your, uh, pipe and smoke it.

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          The assumption is not that smokers do not pay into the systems as long. It is that they do not draw from the systems as long.

          Exactly why the study is flawed. It assumes that smokers pay into the system as long as non-smokers. That is but one of many flaws in the study (as well as the European one cites in the article as well).

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            It wasn't "the" study; it was a number. They do pay in as long and die on average 10 years sooner, which is ten years less draw on pensions, medicare and social security, the exact ten years that statistically are most expensive for medical care.

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              I was referring to "the" study that was the central piece in the USA Today story you linked and cited.

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                You asserted a flaw but with no substantiation or elaboration. As I've said elsewhere, I think this is a dishonest way to raise government revenue, and it becomes so very complicated. No one has touched my "obesity tax" suggestion. The medical costs of obesity are 1-1/2 times that of smoking. Where's the fat tax?

                Would you want to go there? Personally I don't want to go either of those places. Letting smokers and fat people pay higher insurance premiums .... now that would make sense.

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                  I don't see anything in the article that to show that they studied the differential in end-of-life costs between smokers and non-smokers. That's an important piece of this discussion, as end-of-life medical expenses, often paid for by taxpayers, is often a large percentage of a person's total lifetime medical expenses.

                  Do you have information that this is included in the study?

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                    The part of the studies that address "end of life" cost differences between smokers and non-smokers are the part that notes that smokers die, on the average, 10 years sooner. A quote from the USAToday piece posted (which referenced more than one study):

                    "However, smokers die some 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, according to the CDC, and those premature deaths provide a savings to Medicare, Social Security, private pensions and other programs."

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                      Sally, that doesn't address AT ALL costs of end of life care. I'm not talking about the number of years, I'm talking about the costs in the last days, weeks, and months of a person's life. For many people, those are a large percentage of their lifetime health costs.

                      My question is, are those costs, on average, different for smokers than for non-smokers? Since they tend to die from different things, it's reasonable to assume that the costs are different. I'd like to know what those numbers are.

                      The person who did this study seems to make the assumption that length of life is the only variable to consider, and I'm saying that's a false assumption.

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                        Once again, it's not "this study," it's a number of studies. So, "smokers die some 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, according to the CDC, and those premature deaths provide a savings to Medicare, Social Security, private pensions and other programs" says nothing to you about the differences in the medical costs to "the system?"

                        Even if (purely speculative "if") the medical costs for smokers were greater for three months but non-existent for ten following years, you think that smokers are costing "the system" more? You have a thing or two to learn about medical costs and expenditures in old age.

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                          Sally, my point is that the studies appear to be simplistic, assuming that the only factor is how long people live.

                          You've ignored Mitch's point that smokers tend to also pay into the system less, since they tend to die before 65 at a higher rate, too.

                          There's also an assumption that everyone quits working at 65, but that's also a false assumption. A true study would look at whether non-smokers also work past 65 at a higher rate.

                          And, again, the studies also seem to not take into account retiree's economic activity. Yes, they are receiving benefits, but they are also putting those benefits back into the system.

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                            The studies are not simplistic. I'll tell you what's simplistic. Targeting an unpopular group for a money grab.

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                              You mean like state workers?

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                                "State workers" are about as unpopular as "children." Enough with the victim act .... am I up to quadruple "wow" yet? You need something better than a guilt trip.

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                                  You obviously haven't been paying attention.

                                  Governmental employees have been a favorite target of the right since Reagan's infamous "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

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                                    No one is less popular than smokers; thus people don this heavy array of rationalizations to stick this small, relatively low-income group with another tax to pay everyone else's way.

                                    It's a disgrace. (I happen to think the same about the lottery.)

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                                      "No one is less popular than smokers."

                                      Really?

                                      They're less popular than pedophiles, terrorists, and (other) drug addicts? I don't think so.

                                      And right-wingers seem to love smokers, and have long opposed restrictions on smoking in public places.

                                      And you've sidestepped the issue of right-wingers long history of attacking public workers, an attack you've joined.

                                      Unless you suddenly become capable of intellectual honesty, we're done here.

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                                        Point taken. Smokers are right up ahead of pedophiles, terrorists and (other) drug addicts. But you can't tax those, can you.

                                        I haven't "joined" any attack on "public workers." I have long noted the intrinsic and deadly conflict between public employee unions and state government officials. Further, Oregon's PERS problem has been shocking for at least a decade and was badly wrought from the beginning. I read the whole history of that once upon a time (the McMinnville News Register used to have a wonderful archive).

                                        You can etch your last paragraph backwards on a mirror.

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                      This study also assumes no economic benefit derived from people after they retire. This also seems problematic to me.

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      Used to be that consevatives liked narrowly-crafted user fees on voluntary services rather than broad-based taxes. (See entry fees at state parks, etc.)

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        Cigarette taxes are not a user's fee. If there actually were a close calculation of costs of smokers to be regained by taxes on cigarettes, that would be one thing. But it is just a convenient excuse to tax an unpopular group.

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    Sigh.

    Got budget problems? Can't agree on how to finance things? I know! Let's come up with a tax on something that people don't like! Yeah, that'll do the trick!

    When will people get serious about financing government instead of looking for some easy fix (or at least an easy way to punt it down the road a little further)?

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      Chris, I think its unfair to say that people want to tax tobacco simply because they don't like it. As if the only complaint non smokers have about tobacco use is that it makes their hair smell.

      Tobacco companies still target teens and even pre-teens. And frankly attempting to get 12 year olds addicted to a dangerous product is simply evil (and I hate to use that word). Price increases are one of the most effective ways to reduce teen and pre-teen smoking, since children are particularly price sensitive.

      As to adults, Smoking related illnesses cost us all money in either state medical support or higher private insurance rates. It causes lost time from work and decreases productivity.

      While I appreciate that smokers will have to pay more, they do have a choice as to whether to be taxed or not. They can quit. It's difficult but not impossible.

      This is a pretty darn good tax. It recoups societal costs it's totally voluntary and it doesn't impose costs on the type of behavior that we'd like to encourage.

      I'd be thrilled if the state impose this tax and it never collected a dollar from it.

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        "This is a pretty darn good tax. It recoups societal costs it's totally voluntary and it doesn't impose costs on the type of behavior that we'd like to encourage."

        Society gains from smokers; it doesn't lose. Smokers pay more into the system than they take out. All the rest of this is sheer rationalization and cover, a way to tax a lower socioeconomic strata (for programs that ostensibly benefit a large strate -- and pretend -- pretend -- you're doing "them" and everyone a favor.

        Nothing personal, but it is bulloney and should be called out for the bulloney that it is.

        As Chris Anderson said upthread, "When will people get serious about financing government instead of looking for some easy fix (or at least an easy way to punt it down the road a little further)?"

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          Let's see, smokers get sick more before they die, so they miss time from work.

          They also cause their family members to get sick more, so they also miss time from work.

          And are you really saying that dying early is a net gain for society? Really? That's one train I have NO INTEREST in hopping on.

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            "And are you really saying that dying early is a net gain for society?"

            Only from the standpoint of public monies. As I said originally, it's a shocking argument but well-supported but infrequently made because of that.

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          Visit some nursing homes and hospitals where, without even considering cancer, a the largest share of the strokes, heart attacks, and vascular Dementia are all being paid for out of the tax payer pocket.2/3 of nursing home residents are on Medicaid. And the Medicare costs associated with smoking have to be huge. Smokers have a huge impact on the medical and residential care resources of our society. And that is just the financial cost. The human cost of smoking in pain and suffering is huge. It is a societally sanctioned drug addiction of the worst sort. You can shout baloney but smokers and their drug addiction are themselves a cancer on the larger human community.

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            You are making assumptions (about costs) not borne out in the research.

            As was stated, "thin, healthy people" are the biggest drain on Medicare.

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          Perhaps you're correct that smokers save money by dying earlier (Maybe the deficit reduction committee can propose free cigarettes for high school students), so less medical and SS costs. I didn't see anything in the studies that take into account lost productivity, or costs associated with second hand smoke. But lets take health care economics out of it.

          By far the most beneficial aspect of increased tobacco tax is the reduction in smoking addiction of our children. Seems to me a very worthwhile goal. particularly among the lower socioeconomic classes who, once addicted, spend large amounts of their income on this drug for the rest of their lives.

          And, I guess to me, as long as there are low cost smoking cessation programs, regardless of whether the tax falls on what socioeconomic group, the tax is still voluntary. Seems like thats the tax nirvana of conservative/libertarian thinking.

          So, since there's no way tobacco is ever going to be made illegal, are you for or against child tobacco addiction. And, do you have a better way to reduce it? I'm all ears.

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            If all the money from all the tobacco taxes was spent on tobacco cessation and prevention programs, I, too, would be "all ears," Rob. I think raising taxes for general revenue this way is dishonest, disingenuous and unfair.

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          Sally, you've crossed a line. Smokers most defintely DO NOT put more into the system than they take out.

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            I don't make this stuff up, Kurt. No-one likes to talk about it. Remember that story from Europe a few years back? They might as well have been bludgeoning children in a public square for the outrage in disclosing how much less medical costs for smokers were than for non-smokers.

            Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi studied the net costs of smoking-related spending and savings and found that for every pack of cigarettes smoked, the country reaps a net cost savings of 32 cents.

            "It looks unpleasant or ghoulish to look at the cost savings as well as the cost increases and it's not a good thing that smoking kills people," Viscusi said in an interview. "But if you're going to follow this health-cost train all the way, you have to take into account all the effects, not just the ones you like in terms of getting your bill passed."

            http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-04-08-fda-tobacco-costs_N.htm

            These aren't fringe pieces and you could find a lot more.

            It puts the lie to the claim that taxing smokers (further!) is "only fair."

            Here's another thing I don't make up: the country spends 150 percent more on medical costs related to obesity than it does on smoking. No one denies that. I speculate it just seems too treacherous politically to venture there.

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        My point is that sin taxes (and that's what it is) are a cop-out. It makes those who are normally antsy about raising taxes feel like they are doing it for a good cause. And it rarely provides anywhere near enough money to make up for losses in general revenue. And they are generally regressive in nature.

        Instead of having a serious discussion about how we should fund government sources we just get more gimmickry.

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          I have some sympathy for your point that maybe we shouldn't use the tax system to influence behaviors.

          But we do. We give mortgage deduction to encourage home ownership. Accelerated depreciation allowances to encourage equipment purchasing. Capital gains treatment to encourage long term investments and taxes and fees that apply to toxic releases.

          But we don't call them sin taxes or merit tax deductions. And I think we should reject the tobacco industries language when it comes to tobacco taxes. I don't think its a sin or prudish (as the term sin tax implies) to try to prevent childhood tobacco addiction.

          Your point about focusing on our overall tax scheme is well taken in the greater context of state funding. I guess I just disagree about the overall benefit of this particular tax.

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    I find this wording so frustrating:

    1. Eliminate the kicker law which requires the state to return excess taxes to individual taxpayers.

    These are NOT EXCESS TAXES! Only in the bizarro world of Oregon budgeting, where tax revenues have to be projected two years out, and if they exceed projections, they are "excess" regardless of the ACTUAL EXPENSES!

    Argh.

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    Sheesh, maybe in addition to all the other seed I order for my farm I'll order tobaco seed too next year.

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    I look at this in two ways. First, anything that is going to reduce smoking is a good thing. Fewer children will grow up with smoking parents, and we'll breathe better.

    At the same time, if the goal (and the likely result) of increasing the cigarette tax is a decrease in smoking, that also means that the state shouldn't be looking at it as a permanent income source.

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      What is this "permanent" you speak of? We budget in two-year cycles. If and when revenue starts to drop, we'll adjust accordingly - raising other taxes or cutting spending.

      The idea that some minor tax law change today needs to somehow be fixed in stone for a century is silly.

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        Kari, that's my point. What the state needs are stable sources of income, and the cigarette tax can't be counted on as a stable source of income -- it's likely to be a declining source of income.

        That's a good thing from a social standpoint, not a good thing from a source of revenue standpoint.

        The decline in revenue is likely to happen fairly quickly, not gradually over the course of a century.

        • (Show?)

          Quibble: we don't need "stable sources of income". We need an overall stable tax system. Perfectly reasonable, for example, to have two tax sources that fluctuate inversely with each other.

          As for tobacco tax, if we KNOW that it is going to decline predictably - and that's the key, predictably - then it's all good.

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            I agree with your quibble.

            As for the tobacco tax, in the recent past an increase in the tobacco tax has been proposed to fund a specific program. That's why I brought it up this time.

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    Not a smoker and don't really care. I always muse and wonder who is the greater addict; the nicotine craving smoker or the state and federal governments that make hundreds of millions off it taxing at every stage in the production/consumption cycle.

    • (Show?)

      Ever take a guess at how much tobacco is subsidized by the Federal government?

      It's close to $1 billion dollars during the past decade and half.

      Not to mention the healthcare costs for health problems caused by smoking the Federal government pays for.

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        Yes. In KY, for example some growers are paid NOT to grow their full allotment.

        It is certainly one of the most schizophrenic relationships out there. Subsidized and heavily taxed, yet unlike alcohol absolutely no social, medical or societal good that I am aware of.

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    So ... majority support to raise taxes on tobacco and booze. Also slight majority support to tax soft drinks. Only 45% support to reform the kicker, but that MIGHT get to majority support if more people understand what the kicker really is (there's a lot of demagoguery muddying the waters on that one).

    I notice that EVERY measure the poll mentioned to raise taxes was more popular than ANY proposed spending cut. Let's hope the legislature is listening.

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    This is pure BS. The problem is not that there is not enough tax money collected, it is that too much money is spent. No one wants another tax no matter who is paying it. The only RIGHT solution is to reduce expenses.

    • (Show?)

      No. The problem is that in the post-measure 5 world, we do not have enough tax revenues to properly fund the public services we all (especially the private sector) need to be successful as a state long-term.

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