As election day nears, I am having increasing concerns with Proposition A which would increase taxes on cigarettes by 55 cents a pack and, at the same time, increase other tobacco taxes by 20 percent. For starters, I don't fully trust the financial windfall numbers estimated by the state. And secondly, I'm not sure it's fair to fund increasing health care costs for the poor on the backs of smokers.
The state estimates that Prop A will generate $343 million. A second estimate by a University of Missouri economist puts that number about $52 million less. Either way it becomes a windfall for the state to fund programs cut by declining state revenues. Instead of generating more revenue, maybe the state needs to more closely examine those health care programs and see if the money is indeed being spent appropriately. In many cases, the state is spending money for low income health care that middle class working families cannot afford. I find a problem with that situation.
I also have a major concern when the state is handed this multi-million dollar bonanza and has only limited generic guidelines on how to spend these funds. Almost half of the new tax money would go to programs for the poor, women, minorities and children. Other than the general and obvious health improvements in a non-smoking population, I don't see any of these dollars earmarked to help working class families pay for higher health insurance costs.
I bristle at the notion that more money to educate our youth against the perils of smoking will have any impact whatsoever. As I have written before, by now everyone fully realizes the dangers of smoking. Peer pressure is what drives youngsters to that first cigarette. Money alone cannot and will not change that basic fact of human nature.
Think carefully before you grant the state this expanded pocketbook. It may indeed be appropriate to tax smokers higher than they are currently taxed. But Prop A is a giant leap in the wrong direction. I think the state needs to return to the drawing board before voters approve this plan.