I'm not going to dwell on Eliot Spitzer, the
disgraced governor of New York, who was described on public radio today
as "very smart."
Most of us would consider climbing the political ladder only to jump off
headfirst by getting caught in a prostitution scandal, to be "very
dumb." But dumb things are happening in politics all the time.
For instance, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court just ruled that
it can't uphold the state Constitution, whose Article 48 clearly states
that initiative petitions for a constitutional amendment must be taken
up by the Legislature and decided with a roll-call vote. Thousands of
Massachusetts voters signed a petition for universal health insurance,
but the Legislature refused to take a vote on it.
Though I disagree with the petition, I signed on to the lawsuit in an
effort to save the initiative petition process. Health-care activists
proposed that if the Legislature wouldn't act, the SJC simply order the
petition onto the ballot. The SJC instead chose to announce its
impotence in the face of legislative intransigence. Good to know.
Today, for a change, I planned to focus on just one subject — the
proposed cigarette tax hike, but I am already distracted by the proposed
plastic-bag tax. I guess I can combine the two, since they fall within
the general category of government using the tax code to influence
Initially the tax code was meant to raise necessary government revenue
for essential services, by the simplest, most effective means necessary.
But some politicians like to pretend it's not about the money, it's
about encouraging people to behave a certain way to make a better world.
So they tax tobacco hoping, they say, to discourage tobacco use.
Meanwhile they fund government services with a tax that, should their
original goal be realized, will disappear as a funding source.
Chip Ford, once the executive director of an organization called
"Freedom First," fought an earlier hike in the cigarette tax. He advised
the tobacco companies to call the state's bluff and pull their produce
out of Massachusetts, thereby immediately impacting state revenues.
Should they call the state's bluff this year, it would cut state
revenues by roughly half-a-billion dollars.
The only flaw in the plan was that the tobacco companies don't really
care that much, since their consumers apparently will buy their product
no matter how much the government taxes it. Some, like Chip himself,
will quit smoking just to deny the state its take. Others might cross
the border to a lower-tax state, or try to avoid the taxes online; but
they will keep inhaling death and the tobacco companies will still get
Their biggest problem is that their customers die off relatively soon
and there are fewer smoking kids coming along to replace them.
Politicians argue that it's valid to tax cigarettes, because smokers
cost the health-care system money. But a new study from the Netherlands
shows that our common-sense suspicions have been correct: Smokers cost
the system less because they often die of a relatively quick-acting
disease, rather than living on Medicaid in nursing homes for decades.
So the real reason some state politicians want to raise the excise on
cigarettes by $1 a pack is to get more easy money from pathetic addicts
who they hope will be dragging those oxygen tanks around for many long
years at taxpayer expense. This makes no sense.
Now state Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton, insists his proposed tax on
plastic bags in grocery stores isn't meant to raise revenues, but to
save the planet. Apparently never having lived downwind or downstream
from a paper mill, he will allow us to choose untaxed paper bags
I have lived downwind from a paper mill, and played as a child in
tannin-stained creeks; so I always choose plastic at the store. However,
I have begun carrying cloth sacks, and Whole Foods is about to require
its customers to bring their own bags. My Stop & Shop also prominently
displays inexpensive cloth containers for its customers to buy.
The private sector is already responding with a common-sense campaign
against waste, so we don't need the government to get involved, thanks
anyhow. Once the state gets dependent on that plastics tax,
conscientious consumers will have an agonizing choice: Use cloth bags to
save the planet and see services cut, or use plastic to protect state
revenues; or, if revenues drop from cigarette and plastic taxes, accept
another state income-tax hike to keep revenues stable.
I never smoked, mostly to get points siding with my father against my
smoking mother. But though it must be hard to quit, I think I would
refuse to let the government take advantage of my addiction with ever
higher taxes on it. I'd stop smoking. And eat more untaxed food instead;
and carry that food in a canvas bag.
I always resist higher income taxes. I also vote against politicians who
violate the constitution. And if I lived in New York, I wouldn't have
voted for Eliot Spitzer in the first place. Hey, public radio: I'm
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.