Limited Taxation & Government
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CLT&G Update
Tuesday, November 24, 1998

ADVANCES . . . NOVEMBER 20, 1998
Week of November 23, 1998

TOBACCO . . . Following Attorney General Scott Harshbarger's announcement that he's accepting the nationwide tobacco settlement, anti-smoking advocates are bracing for attempts to raid the windfall. The agreement will bring Massachusetts $7.6 billion over 25 years, with payments from cigarette companies continuing in perpetuity. Harshbarger is planning to file a bill for the next legislative session that would dedicate all the money to expanded health-care coverage and anti-smoking efforts. Acting Gov. Paul Cellucci has signaled that he agrees in principle with that goal. But Dr. Greg Connolly, director of the state's Tobacco Control Program, said he expects lobbyists and politicians to look at the annual payments as 'found money' that could help pay for the Central Artery/Tunnel Project and other large state obligations. "Someone will be in there saying, 'Look, now you can cut the income tax down to 5 percent,'" Connolly said. . . .

"Raid the windfall"?

Okay, let's buy all the anti-tobacco zealots' arguments for just a moment; for the sake of debate let's stipulate that the use of tobacco has in fact added to "the financial burden on society"; let's let stand without disagreement that the health costs of smoking have been a major drain on state budgets for decades.

For the sake of argument, let's just forget about the billions upon billions of revenue dollars in tobacco taxes (increased by 50 cents on every pack of cigarettes just in the past six years alone) the state has collected over lo those many decades, almost $300 million each year now from smokers alone.

For the sake of argument, let's even agree for the moment that state coffers deserve to be reimbursed by "Big Bad Tobacco" for the years of avoidable "costs."

For the sake of argument, let's give the anti-tobacco zealots and lifestyle police every point they've insisted upon, all of them.

They've won. "Big Bad Tobacco" has capitulated and has agreed to pay $206 billion in tribute to the national lifestyle police to get them off their backs, just to get them to go away. The Massachusetts share is $7.6 billion-plus.

Reality Check -- let's simplify this absurd situation:

  • Tobacco makes and sells a legal product to a willing buyer, Smoker.
  • Smoker uses this legal product with full knowledge that it may well be bad for his health, and gets sick.
  • Government steps in and pays for Smoker's health care by taking money from Taxpayer, then takes more from Taxpayer to sue Tobacco for the cost.
  • Government is reimbursed by Tobacco for the cost of the health care to Smoker, already paid for by Taxpayer.
  • Government then claims the restitution for the money Taxpayer provided both to Smoker's health care and Government's lawsuit now belongs to Government, not Taxpayer?

What kind of shell game is that?

If the "financial burden on society" allegedly caused by "Big Bad Tobacco" was paid by taxpayers over all those years out of the state's general revenue funds . . . and if those funds are now to be replenished by this restitution from the tobacco companies . . . just who else deserves to be compensated but the taxpayers who "needlessly" carried the "financial burden on society" for "the less fortunate among us" over all those years?

Dr. Greg Connolly, director of the state's Tobacco Control Program, accurately sees the writing on the wall, though he and his zealous ilk will never, ever admit that the money belongs to the taxpayers and not to them.

Connolly said he expects "lobbyists and politicians" to look at the annual payments as "found money," a windfall that could be used -- of all the foolish purposes! -- to compensate taxpayers for decades of being over-taxed to, as we always hear, help "the needy and least fortunate among us." My God, he worries, someone might even suggest that you can now cut the income tax down to 5 percent.

My goodness, how outrageous that would be!

Meanwhile, the state still projects collecting another $300 million in tobacco taxes from smokers next year.

CLT&G will be filing bills with the Legislature before next week's deadline to both use the restitution money as it was intended, to compensate weary, over-burdened, compassionate taxpayers; and to reduce the income tax to 5 percent, as was promised in 1989 when it was "temporarily" increased.

Okay, the lifestyle police have robbed the pockets of "Big Bad Tobacco" ('More fun than raising taxes and even more control!'), so without missing a beat they've moved on to the next deep-pockets quarry, the latest cause de jour: "Big Bad Guns"!

Boston mayor Tom Menino and mayors in other cities around the country have filed, or in Menino's case will soon file, lawsuits against gun manufacturers to "recoup costs associated with handgun violence in the city." [The Boston Globe, Mon., Nov. 23; "Tough route seen for Hub suit vs. gun makers," by Anthony Flint]

But note the strategy behind their bullying nuisance lawsuits: "The aim of the lawsuits being brought by the cities is not necessarily to prevail in a trial. Municipalities hope to settle with the gun industry, thereby reaping the kind of big money that cigarette makers are paying to states that brought lawsuits against them."

"Pay us off or we will destroy you." Intimidation and legal blackmail, in simple terms.

'More fun than raising taxes and even more control!' What the controllers can't do by law, they're determined to do by lawsuit. And they know how to patiently grind down the system, public opinion and their prey, to get their way, sooner or later.

"These are reasonable claims. They will involve a lot of work, and there may be some initial skepticism from some judges and jurors. But that's just the kind of skepticism you saw initially with tobacco," said Richard Daynard, head of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University. "As [the cities] work on it, I think they'll find paydirt."

"Paydirt?" Rather, deep-pockets prey who must surrender, accept the financially less destructive alternative to the  onslaught of lifestyle police blackmail. "Pay us off or we will destroy you," the voice of Liberal compassion purrs.

And remember, the Food Police are lurking in the shadows, just biding their time, awaiting the right moment . . .

Chip Ford --

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