Obama Wants to Fund Universal Pre-K Using Cigarette Taxes. It Won't Work.



President Obama's new budget proposes paying for a $66 billion universal pre-kindergarten program by increasing the federal cigarette tax to $1.95 a pack. In theory, that raises about $78 billion over the next decade. Enough to fund the program—but not forever. The problem, as with all government programs funded under the kill-two-birds theory used to justify relying on smoking taxes as a revenue mechanism, is that cigarette taxes tend to discourage people from smoking. And with fewer people smoking, there's less revenue to be raised from cigarette taxes.

As The Washington Post's Brad Plumer points out you can see the expected decline within the president's budget projections: Revenue peaks at $9.8 billion in 2015. But by 2023, the end of the 10-year budget window, it's already down to $6 billion—and presumably would continue dropping from there, making it plainly unsustainable.

And that's assuming that these revenue projections are accurate. States that have raised smoking taxes have found that they often aren't. Between 2003 and 2007, states raised cigarette taxes 57 times. Yet according to the National Taxpayers Union, just 16 of those hikes brought in the expected revenue.

I don't expect Obama's pre-k proposal to go very far, but even still, there's something perverse about even proposing to fund a program based on revenues raised by the perpetuation of an activity one claims to want to stamp out. Either you end up with a revenue source that isn't sustainable, or you end up with a program that relies on the continuation of an activity you claim to despise in order to function.

Granted, that hasn't dissuaded legislators from this sort of thing before. Arizona got into budget trouble recently for relying on tobacco industry revenues to fund its Medicaid program. 

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  1. And as if there’s any “preschool lockbox”. God what a moron. But smoking is evil so it will pass anyway.

  2. so taxing an activity means less of that activity, unless the tax is used to fund an expansion of the nanny state. That about it?

    1. But when the tax doesn’t get enough revenue, they can raise taxes in other place to make up the shortfall.

      They never ever stop taking. It’s all they know.

    2. While we’re at it, I’d like my commute to be entirely downhill both ways.

  3. There’s also the fact that Obama is lying through his teeth when he claimed that studies have proven the success of pre-K programs.

    They’ve proven no such thing. In fact the opposite is true. The Head Start program that liberals are so enamoured of has been proven to be a failure.

    The real objective of all of this is the same as it always is – simply to create another voting block of people whose employment is tied to government spending and who can be reliabily counted on to vote for those who promise to keep the cash coming.

    1. Don’t all the benefits of preschool programs disappear by like 2nd grade?

      1. I believe the study that evaluated the Head Start program said the benefits disappear by the 3rd grade.

        The program is a failure either way.

    2. It’s also about giving entitled assholes taxpayer-funded daycare.

      1. Exactly. And once the programs in place it’s not going anywherd so he doesn’t care whether it’s funded with cigarette taxes because continued funding is the problem of future politicians.

        1. Which is why it is silly to say “it” won’t work. What “it” are you talking about? Raising taxes and increasing spending and growing government won’t work to accomplish the goal of raising taxes and increasing spending and growing government? I think it will.

          If you are talking about whether or not raising cigarette taxes to pay for universal pre-K will actually work efficiently to educate children – well, what makes you think that is really the point?

    3. The Republicans should agree to pro-K, but stipulate it be done by the private sector only, and use vouchers/tax credits.

  4. He should tax choom gangs.

  5. Why don’t these douchebags just dispense with subterfuge and just give the money straight to the people whose votes they are trying to buy? (besides it being illegal)


    1. It’s only illegal if you admit what you’re doing.

  6. Either you end up with a revenue source that isn’t sustainable, or you end up with a program that relies on the continuation of an activity you claim to despise in order to function.

    And since the nebulous justification for cigarette taxes is to offset the social cost of smoking it should be going to Medicare and Medicaid. The last thing that piece of human debris should be proposing is taking the money to spend on another favored group’s daycare needs.

  7. Smokers comprise approximately 19% of adults in America, and that 19% of people are supposed to support “free” preschool for 100% of preschool aged kids, most of whom will be the children of non-smokers. And most smokers fall in to lower income households, which means that poor smokers will be paying for preschool programs that will be primarily attended by middle class and upward children of suburban soccer moms who want to have free babysitting for their 3 year old.

    If Obama was so worried about America’s working poor, he wouldn’t be demanding that they financially shoulder a sham “education” program for richer folks via a tax that is paid disproportionately by the working poor. But this program shows the mask slipping; he has no regard for the poor and is seeking to 1) destroy the thriving private day care industry in America where working parents now choose to send their children until they are old enough for school so that he can 2) create from the ashes of those day care programs a new voting bloc that will fellate Team BLUE.

    But I have other questions. Will this new shiny preschool program be mandatory or voluntary? Because the rest of what they call school isn’t. It’s never too early to start with indoctrinating the chilluns..

    1. Frightening isn’t it?

    2. That’s the intention. The private daycare industry is proof that education and childcare are goods like any other, best provided by the free market. This cannot stand.

    3. Are there any places in the US where school before 1st grade is mandatory?

      1. I think some states require kindergarten. I’m pretty sure I had to go to K in FL in the early 80s.

  8. And what’s with the pic of the kid who looks like he needs his ass kicked?

  9. Florida has universal Pre-K. You get a voucher that covers the cost of school for 5 days a week, 3 hours a day. It even works at private pre-schools (I’m using mine (damn right i’m taking it) for around a 1/3rd discount on my daughter’s tuition for next year, bringing the cost from “obscene” to “slightly less obscene”).

    As far as I’ve heard, the universal Pre-K in Florida really hasn’t had much effect on long-term educational outcomes.

  10. Isn’t this just a rehash of the “meathead tax” that Rob Reiner pushed through in California about 10 years ago? It didn’t make a bit of difference to kids in CA, but it did raise a bunch of money for CA Dems to piss away.

  11. The only logical conclusion is that Obama is morally bankrupt.

  12. What cigarette tax? I roll my own with “pipe tobacco”.

    I used to buy cartons from the Indian Reservations, but Obummer banned that.

    Why does Obama hate Native Americans?

  13. What’s with the “universal” part anyway? Like hell would I send a 4 year old to a socialist indoctrination camp.

  14. Obama Wants to Fund Universal Pre-K day care

  15. “I don’t expect Obama’s pre-k proposal to go very far, but even still, there’s something perverse about even proposing to fund a program based on revenues raised by the perpetuation of an activity one claims to want to stamp out. Either you end up with a revenue source that isn’t sustainable, or you end up with a program that relies on the continuation of an activity you claim to despise in order to function.”


    This, like everything the Big BO has done since November 2010, when his party lost its filibuster-proof control of Congress, is purely a political move. It is intended for him to be able to say that the Evil Republicans voted against children and in favor of Big Tobacco, and use it to his advantage in the 2014 congressional elections.

    No other discussion is needed on the subject.

  16. That can’t be. He said that no one who makes less than $250k will see their taxes go up.

    This seems to me to be another misguided attempt to eliminate the direct costs of having children.

    1. It takes a tax code village to raise a child.

      1. And incentives totally work when you are taxing vices, but never do anything when it comes to people plopping out more children that they can’t afford.

      2. It takes a village too damn many dollars out of my wallet to raise a everybody else’s children.

  17. Maybe if we allowed tabbacco companies to just sponsor Pre-K indoctrination we could increase the tax base and decrease lifetime medical and Social Security costs?

    Someone who starts smoking at age 4 would probably die before they got old enough to be a real drain on society, amirite?

  18. President Obama is basing the proposed preschool programs upon Prop 10 – the California First 5 program.

    Maybe preschool could be a decent idea, but for pete’s sake, do not base any such federal law on the completely dysfunctional First 5’s – 20 forced resignations and over $300 million recently admittedly directed to be spent illegally is tax dollar malfeasance. There’s a lot wrong with the structure of that law – let’s not make the same mistake twice.

    Check out the First 5 watchdog site at

  19. Wow, Obama really is the lousiest President in United States history. We’re already running over with debt and now he wants a stupid 66 Billion dollar Universal PreSchool program? Obvious tax revenue problems aside – let’s look at the even MORE obvious problem – They state the program will be $66 billion. We ALL know how government programs cost exactly what they tell us, so by 2014 or 2015 the cost of that will be $200 Billion. By 2020 it’ll be $1.4 Trillion.

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