Archive for October 13th, 2016
Maybe they are.
Watching the Rangers-Blue Jays game the other night, I saw a commercial against Colorado’s Amendment 72, an initiative to amend the state Constitution to raise the tobacco tax from 84 cents a pack to $2.59 a pack.
The main stated argument in favor is that such a high tax will reduce underage smoking, and the money is supposed to go to programs to do that, along with a wish-list of other tangentially-related health expenditures, such as money for hospitals and student loan relief for rural doctors.
What was striking was that the language was almost identical to a radio ad I had heard earlier in the week opposing California’s Proposition 56, which would raise its cigarette tax from $0.87 to $2.87. The tax-raisers in California are evidently using the same arguments as the ones here in Colorado.
It may be that the Right is finally figuring out that it needs a national effort to combat state-level bad ideas. Since the language used in the anti-referendum ads was so similar, I can only assume that they were a coordinated response. Given the electoral environment in both Colorado and California, I’m not optimistic about defeating these taxes in either states, but I hope that they don’t take the wrong lessons from it and give up.
Coordination is nothing new for nationwide liberal interest groups. They routinely find promising states to run similar legislation or ballot initiatives in, coordinating their efforts nationally, and running similar ad campaigns. (For instance, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is running spots in favor of a 1-cent soda taxes in both San Francisco and Oakland this year.) Then, having established bona fides, they move onto other states. California and Colorado are both targeted for tobacco tax increases because they’ve “fallen behind” other states in how much they let their non-smokers translate their feelings of moral superiority over smokers into action.
Historically, they’ve relied on conservative state-level think tanks and political groups not to realize that any given initiative or legislation wasn’t unique to their state.
In recent years, the right has gotten wise to this strategy, although it’s been somewhat ineffective in countering it. As out-of-state funding is almost always unpopular, the Left has countered efforts to highlight that by filtering contributions through its networks of state and local PACs and issue committees. When I worked at Watchdogwire.com, one of the mantras among the state editors was, “If it’s happening in your state, it’s happening in other states.” This helped give us the incentive to write certain stories, but getting people to read them and connect them to what was not yet going on locally was another matter.
In addition, when more conservative-minded groups such as ALEC or the State Policy Network of state-level policy groups have tried the same thing, they’ve been attacked as conspiracies by the left, and their sponsors and donors have been the targets of hate campaigns.
I found the arguments opposed to the tax compelling. Both Colorado and California have already diverted alleged anti-tobacco money to other purposes, and in any event, after the first year, you never really know how much money is “supposed” to go to these programs, anyway, so any tax increase really becomes an excuse for the state spend on whatever it likes (and more importantly to the politicians, whomever it likes). This was the logic that helped defeat a large general income tax increase back in 2013, although cigarette smokers are always an attractive target for tax increases.
Although I don’t smoke, don’t use tobacco, and despite being from Virginia, never have, I think I’ll vote against giving the government more money to spend.