Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why Is This So Hard?

Earlier this year, in his State of the State address Gov. Mitch Daniels introduced an excellent proposal; raise the tax on cigarettes in Indiana by 54.5 cents a pack. The tax increase would serve a dual purpose. First, the increased cost would discourage smoking, especially among teenagers. Second, the added revenue would fund health insurance for the working poor, immunizations for children and anti-smoking programs; all children who are not covered by insurance would be eligible for the program.

Indiana HB 1008 is a much needed piece of legislation. Smokers who want to quit smoking, and most that I know say they do, would have some extra incentive. Many Hoosiers need this incentive. Indiana has the second highest adult smoking rate in the nation; 27.3 percent of adults and 21.9 percent of youth are smokers. Indiana’s current cigarette tax (55.5 cents) is one of the lowest in the nation. Among surrounding states, only Kentucky has a lower cigarette tax. Compare that with other Midwestern states: Michigan’s is $2, Ohio’s is $1.25, and Chicago has $3.66 in combined state, county and city taxes. On top of that, smoking costs the Indiana Medicaid program $487 million each year.

HB 1008 is a no-brainer, right?

As former IU football coach Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

While the House Public Health Committee voted 8-0 last week to increase the cigarette tax by 54.5 cents per pack, for a total tax of $1.10, the House Ways and Means Committee recently slashed the increase back to 25 cents a pack. Why? It seems that Gov. Daniels made a remark regarding the Democrats property tax plan that the Dems did not appreciate.

Angered by Gov. Mitch Daniels’ characterization of their property tax initiative as a “whopping big” tax increase, Democrats are about to make a whopping big cut in the proposed cigarette tax increase he is seeking…The House Public Health Committee voted 8-0 last week to increase the cigarette tax by 54.5 cents per pack, for a total tax of $1.10, to pay for health coverage for the uninsured. But today, Democrats in the House Ways and Means Committee are expected to slash the increase back to 25 cents a pack…The governor’s off-the-cuff comment is creating a storm, creating a furor,” said Rep. Charlie Brown, the Gary Democrat who is the author of the health insurance bill, House Bill 1008. “You don’t kick me in my right shin while you ask me to do something for you.”

I thought the idea was to do something for the people of Indiana, not play partisan patty-cake. Are the Dems sticking it to Gov. Daniels, or are they sticking it to Hoosiers? A 54.5-cent increase would raise an estimated $230 million in revenue and cut youth smoking by nearly 10 percent, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a national anti-smoking group. In contrast, a 25-cent increase would raise about $115 million and trim youth smoking by an estimated 4.5 percent, according to the group.

This legislation makes sense from every angle, but the politicians behave as if their children on the playground.

Why is this so hard?

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