Bureaucracy-Building Efforts May Doom California Cigarette Tax Increase Initiative

On Tuesday California primary voters (if they even bother to show up) will get to choose between letting smokers keep some of their nicotine-stained dollars or snatching them away to fund more cancer research.

Proposition 29 would add a tax of $1 per pack of cigarettes in California (current tax: 87 cents per pack). The revenue from the taxes would fund cancer research, smoking reduction programs and tobacco law enforcement. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office predicted the ballot initiative would bring in $735 million in revenue annually. (Do keep in mind the state’s record of grossly overestimating in its revenue projections. This number has already been reduced once.)

The ballot initiative garnered significant support back in March – 67 percent supported the measure, according to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California [pdf]. But by May the support had plunged 14 points to 53 percent. Many prominent California newspapers have editorialized against it, including the Los Angeles Times. And when you can’t get a paternalistic do-gooder tax increase past the editorial board of the Times, you’ve definitely done something wrong somewhere.

In this case, a huge television advertising campaign has alerted Californians to the reality of the proposition: It doesn’t “fund cancer research” in some coherent, observable outlay. It creates yet another state bureaucracy to oversee the fund’s expenditures full of appointees with no oversight. Part of the outlays would go to facilities and other capital expenses. And, of course, a significant amount would go to various “tobacco law enforcement” efforts, which is code for government employee salaries (and likely grants for overtime for special “enforcement” projects). It also doesn’t require the money to even be spent for research taking place within California, a detail being hit again and again in ads given the state’s still double-digit unemployment numbers.

 

After La Donna Porter appeared in the ad above opposing the proposition, Gov. Jerry Brown booted her off a state advisory panel that examines chemicals that cause developmental or reproductive harm.

Tobacco companies have spent millions in opposition to the measure, but the messages are coming from anti-tax groups as well as skeptical media outlets. The message tends to be “the money would be better spent elsewhere” rather than “we need to be spending less money.” If only we were spending it on college students or the poor, the Times laments:

"Proposition 29 is well intentioned, but it just doesn't make sense for the state to get into the medical research business to the tune of half a billion dollars a year when it has so many other important unmet needs. California can't afford to retain its K-12 teachers, keep all its parks open, give public college students the courses they need to earn a degree or provide adequate home health aides for the infirm or medical care for the poor. If the state is going to raise a new $735 million, it should put the money in the general fund rather than dedicating it to an already well-funded research effort."

So if the money were being used to bankroll public employee pensions or to keep parks open (whatever that actually means (bankrolling park employee pensions)) rather than to fund cancer research, it would be okay.

Earlier this month, I blogged other examples where revenue California is gathering isn’t going where people think it’s going.

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  • SIV||

    California sucks.

  • fried wylie||

    The revenue from the taxes would fund ... tobacco law enforcement.

    The law enforcement they need because of black-market cigs trying to avoid the taxes.

    There's a nice positive feedback loop for ya.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    How else are they going to get that government dollar multiplier effect?

  • sarcasmic||

    But, but, but... Teh chidrenz!!!!1!!1!!!111

  • AlmightyJB||

    OT...tag team drones. Wasp and Switchblade.

    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech.....p=features

  • ||

    If the state is going to raise a new $735 million, it should put the money in the general fund rather than dedicating it to an already well-funded research effort.

    Fixed.

    We can only be thankful that the authors of the proposition are such incredible idiots that there's a chance it won't pass.

  • wareagle||

    I love how the Times is dead certain about the new revenue that will pour in, because govt estimates re: the impact of tax hikes are always on target (see: IL, income tax increase, et al).

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    After La Donna Porter appeared in the ad above opposing the proposition, Gov. Jerry Brown booted her

    Fuck you Jerry

  • SIV||

    OT:

    John Edwards jury reaches a verdict...

  • WarrenT||

    We find he is a Super Sexy Love Machine!

  • Mo' $parky||

    Awww yeah! Shake it baby.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    We find the defendant to be a Smarmy POS

  • wareagle||

    but did it take a jury trial to determine that Edwards is 1) a lawyer, 2) a politician, and 3) the absolute worst kind of opportunist, the type who never missed the chance to exploit personal tragedy for possible political gain.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

  • SIV||

    Reportedly "guilty on one count" hung jury on the rest.

  • WarrenT||

    I might vote for it just to make the black market even more pervasive.

    So many people smoke that pushing more people into the black market means even more people have a reason to distrust and fear the government.

    And thus the government loses some more of it's support and (faux) legitimacy.

  • ||

    Could someone please explain to me the logic of increasing taxes on a product that is universally reviled as unhealthy (true), yet funds life saving social programs FOR THE CHILLUNZ! (SCHIP, I'm looking at you) while claiming they wish to eradicate the offending, unhealthy product and its use?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    It ain't about the logic, it's about the intentions, and Fuck You, That's Why

  • R C Dean||

    Its like this, Groovus:

    We increase taxes on a product that is universally reviled as unhealthy in order to fund life saving social programs, while claiming we wish to eradicate the offending, unhealthy product and its use.

    See? Simple.

  • ||

    Yes, that's much better now. Thank you, RC. If I didn't like you so much, I'd throw you off a cliff. :-)

  • R C Dean||

    Like lawyers everywhere, I'm always glad to help a member of the medical profession.

  • Mo' $parky||

    The revenue from the taxes would fund cancer research, smoking reduction programs and tobacco law enforcement whatever new project needs funding.

    That's my guess.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Rainbow shitting unicorn research

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    whatever new project needs funding.

    High-speed rail?

  • SKR||

    with only a half billion per year? not likely.

  • DeadLenny||

    Yeah, Prop 29 will fund cancer research. Just like the state lottery has funded public schools.

    Reno is a two-hour drive from where I'm sitting right now. It's like they want me to leave the state to spend money. (*shrug*) Doesn't bother me: the missus and I will hit the buffet at the Atlantis, pull handles for an hour, then pick up a few boxes of Drum for me and a couple dozen cartons of Marlboros for friends... Hey, with a nominal "handling fee," I may come out ahead on a day trip! Thanks, Sacramento!

  • The Craig||

    Current tax is only 87 cents? How has it stayed so low for so long?

  • strat||

    So SHE'S one of the people responsible for those ridiculous signs posted pretty much everywhere one walks! Now they just have to fire the rest of the advisory panel.

    I am curious about one thing, can any Californian tell me whether every peanut product carries the warning about containing "chemicals known to the State of California known to cause cancer or reproductive harm?"

    Just wondering how fact-based they are.

  • John Thacker||

    Well, that's the result of Proposition 65, IIRC. It basically forces businesses to put that on everything as their only safe out.

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