CLT Update
Monday, May 7, 2001

They're back for more taxes, spending ... then even more taxes!

"These incremental changes are part of a larger purpose ... of providing access to adequate and universal health care as a right," said [state Senator Linda] Melconian (D-Springfield).

"You don't need to raise taxes every time you want to do something in this state and that's been the mindset of certain members in the Legislature." [Shawn Feddeman, spokesman for Gov. Jane Swift]

Pols put cig tax on front burner
Boston Herald [below]
Mon., May 7, 2001

Like the immutable Law of Gravity, the Laws of Diminishing Returns and Unintended Consequences cannot be amended, repealed or simply ignored by our lawmakers.

But don't waste your time telling that to a tax-and-spend legislator, who lives only to promise today what can't be delivered tomorrow without taking more money from your pocket.

This week's political scheme is to incrementally adopt Universal Health Care -- initially on the backs of today's most vulnerable, politically incorrect pariah, smokers.

The problem is with those pesky immutable laws ... and our ability to learn from the past and look ahead to the future.

Consider the tax-and-spenders' three goals, incompatible and mutually exclusive in all honesty.

Reduce smoking, provide more revenue, and increase spending on an expensive growth entitlement program, simultaneously.

Let us not forget the biggest bait-and-switch scam in state history, the state's $8.3 billion share of the Tobacco Settlement. Its lawsuit against "Big Tobacco" was allegedly launched to seek "reimbursement" for past Medicaid and Mass Health expenses of treating smoking-related illnesses of uninsured smokers.

Then-Attorney General Scott Harshbarger shamelessly argued: "As the Supreme Judicial Court has held, reimbursement is simply 'repaying or making good the amount paid out.'"

Your past taxes allegedly paid those medical expenses. How much of the almost-$300 million a year for 25 years the state is receiving from your "reimbursement" have you received?

It was no more than a lame excuse in the bait-and-switch scam.

As we've reported in the past, in fact the state's annual excise tax on tobacco, some $300 million, more than paid for those expenses, with about $100 million left over. But that didn't stop our ambitious attorney general from joining the liability frenzy.

Nationally, the $206 billion settlement was passed on from "Big Tobacco" to its customers with a 50 cents per pack increase, a hidden tax. Add that to this proposal, which alone will give Massachusetts the highest cigarette tax in the country at $1.26 per pack.

My point is not to defend smokers, though they certainly deserve it wherever they can find it. We should recognize that targeting a politically incorrect group to carry the financial burden alone for some new government scheme is just a way for politicians to stick a foot in the door.

This latest of various proposed tax increases will certainly depress the sale of cigarettes in Massachusetts -- especially with low-tax New Hampshire such a short drive away and the incentive increasing. Then, after the drive north to significantly save on the tobacco tax, how much more state revenue will be lost in our sales tax for other household items purchased while up there anyway?

If their alleged first goal is achieved and the sale of tobacco is reduced, the reduced revenue cannot and will not sustain a new and expanding entitlement program forever ... and once established, these programs are just that.

When the Laws of Diminishing Returns and Unintended Consequences kick in -- when the revenue stream from this oppressed target of opportunity dries up -- where do you suppose the pols will come to replenish it?

Here's a hint. Remember what Willie Sutton replied when asked why he robbed banks: "That's where the money is."

Chip Ford

Associated Press
Monday, May 7, 2001

Legislators propose raising cigarette tax to fund health care 
By Mark Pratt

BOSTON (AP) Some legislators want to make sure every citizen of Massachusetts has access to health care, and they want smokers to pay for it with the highest state tobacco taxes in the nation.

"I am hoping this will accomplish exactly what we did the last time we raised cigarette taxes," said state Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, the primary sponsor of the new proposal.

Montigny was behind a 1996 law that increased the tobacco tax and used the money to provide health care coverage to every child in the state and prescription drug coverage to seniors.

That bill expanded coverage to an additional 250,000 state residents and reduced the number of uninsured children to 2.8 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

"We've made great strides in health care coverage in Massachusetts ... but for all we've done there are 365,000 people in this state who are still uninsured," Senate President Thomas Birmingham, himself a smoker, said Sunday.

"I think in this, the richest nation in the world, in a robust economy, that's unconscionable. Massachusetts has a moral responsibility and a political obligation to do the right thing."

While expanding health care coverage is a noble goal, there are better ways to do it, said Barbara Anderson, executive director of the anti-tax group, Citizens for Limited Taxation.

"What happened to the $8 billion we got from the tobacco settlement that was going to be used for health care programs?" she said.

"It's just that Tom Birmingham likes raising taxes and he hasn't raised taxes in a while," she said.

The proposal would hike cigarette taxes in the state from 76 cents a pack to a national-high $1.26 a pack, and raise the cost of a pack of cigarettes to about $5. The tax would also apply to other tobacco products.

The increase would raise an estimated $151 million annually, Birmingham said. The state spends about $1 billion a year on smoking-related illnesses, Montigny said.

Raising the tax on cigarettes would also prompt some people to quit smoking, especially young people, said Rob Restuccia, executive director of Health Care for All, an advocacy group.

"We're looking at this to reduce tobacco company profits and reduce smoking," he said. The proposal also has the support of the America Cancer Society.

Tom Ryan, a spokesman for tobacco company Philip Morris U.S.A., said targeting smokers for higher taxes is unfair.

"Things that help everyone, like health care, should be paid for by everyone," he said.

Smokers will find ways to avoid the higher taxes, such as buying online, crossing state borders to states with lower taxes and purchasing tobacco products on Indian reservations, he said.

The measure will be heard Wednesday by the Senate and House Taxation Committees, and the Joint Committee on Health Care. But even if it passes both houses in the Legislature, it is likely to be vetoed by acting Gov. Jane Swift, who has pledged not to raise taxes. 

The Boston Herald
Monday, May 7, 2001

Pols put cig tax on front burner
by Franci Richardson

Senate President Thomas Birmingham yesterday proposed hiking the state tobacco tax by an additional 50-cents per pack to pay for health insurance for 365,000 poor residents.

The increase would hit Massachusetts smokers with the highest tax in the country -- $1.26 per pack.

"Seventy percent of the uninsured get up everyday, go to work, but are unfortunate enough to work for employers who don't provide them with insurance," Birmingham, himself a smoker, said at a press conference held yesterday at Cambridge Hospital. "To me, that is truly unconscionable."

The extra tax -- expected to bring in $150 million in the first year -- would expand eligibility within the state's Mass Health plan and insure more residents between 19 and 64.

But Birmingham (D-Chelsea) and other legislators are already anticipating some tough opposition from acting Gov. Jane Swift.

Beacon Hill leaders criticized her new resistance since she voted for a 25-cent tax in 1996 that insured 250,000 children.

"This is not a political conversion, it's a political epiphany," said bill sponsor Mark Montigny, (D-New Bedord), chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Comittee. "The part that's galling to me is that she should stand up and say, 'I'm sorry, but the pledge of no taxes is more important than saving lives.'"

Swift's spokesman yesterday defended the acting governor's No-New-Tax Pledge.

"She has said that (she voted favorably when) she was a state senator representing one part of the state. Now she's representing the whole state and vehemently will oppose any attempts to raise taxes in Massachusetts," Shawn Feddeman said yesterday.

"You don't need to raise taxes every time you want to do something in this state and that's been the mindset of certain members in the Legislature."

The proposal is the third of its kind since 1992, when the state launched its first 25-cent cigarette tax initiative via ballot question.

In 1996, Montigny supported an additional 25-cent tax, which was vetoed by Gov. William Weld but ultimately passed by the Legislature. The money was used to insure more children and strengthen the state's prescription drug coverage to seniors.

Montigny said yesterday only 2.8 percent of Bay State children remain uninsured, a national low. And he pointed to a 14.3 percent decline in smoking among youths since the last tax increase.

"As the price goes up, young people smoke less," he said. "This industry has lied to Congress, to the court systems, to the American public. It's not a bad target to take on."

But Tom Ryan, a spokesman for tobacco company Philip Morris USA, said targeting smokers with higher taxes is unfair.

"Things that help everyone, like health care, should be paid for by everyone," he said.

The bill, however, was hailed by fellow state senators, the American Cancer Society, and hospital officials.

Linda Melconian, the Senate majority leader, called the proposal a step toward universal health care.

"These incremental changes are part of a larger purpose ... of providing access to adequate and universal health care as a right," said Melconian (D-Springfield). "This is a balanced, prudent, meritorious approach to expanding health care and beginning to ameliorate the dispartity within the Commonwealth."

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

For more information on this scheme:
The Boston Globe
Monday, May 7, 2001

A giant step for health care
By Thomas Birmingham, Samuel O. Their and Rob Restuccia

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