Rome, NY Sucks

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Monday, April 04, 2005

Sin Tax: From Black Lung to Black Gold

The Buffalog recently had a
post referring to an interesting George Will column detailing a Georgia Republican's proposal to replace the IRS with a 23% consumption tax. Will points out the savings in paid tax preparation and the enforcement system that has caused corporations to pay a lower tax rate year after year by exploiting loopholes. That would be an interesting idea, but there are some crazy state taxes we might want to look at as well.

What I've been thinking about is the abuse and outright insanity of sin taxes. These are taxes of various kinds, from snacks to gas to smokes to boats. The reasoning is twofold. One is that taxes will discourage politically incorrect behavior. The other is from the Hammurabi School of Economics: Let the tax fit the vice.

Gas taxes are charged to pay for the roads used by the cars. Cigarette taxes are obstensibly repaying a healthcare system for smoking-related illnesses. Then there are the luxury taxes that seek to make the rich pay up a little more. There's the snack tax for people who don't eat grains and tofu. Then there are the state lotteries to pay for education? Those must be to punish people stupid enough to bet.

This is where the insanity starts. States encourage gambling to bring money in, even though gambling addiction can lead to personal destruction. Money earmarked for education is reduced by the amount of the lottery proceeds. It's not a bonus added on.

Then there's the gas tax. It's a reasonable enough idea that road use should be tied to gas use. Of course, there has been an argument lately that taxes should be raised to encourage hybrid use. It turns out that people in Oregon have been so eco-friendly that the state is developing a mileage based system that will effectively punish hybrid owners who get to drive twice as many miles for the same price that an SUV owner does. This is ignoring the fact that heavier cars cause more road damage.

Let's not forget the ultimate sin tax on cigarettes. Turning Stone is cleaning up of cigarette sales that don't collect state tax. These taxes, like the lottery, pick on addicts to pay for government programs. I find this quite disturbing. If smoking is bad, make it illegal. The anti-smoking Nazis and the libertarians who would open up opium dens next to the detox center have formed an unholy alliance that keeps it expensive, legal and common. Let's not forget what states wasted tobacco settlement money on. It sure wasn't a new cardiac center at the state hospital.


  • At April 05, 2005 9:23 PM, Blogger Craig said…

    Ah, the good ol' sin taxes. Everyone pays them because we're all made to feel so guilty for enjoying life.

    At a relatively young age, employed in the great American supermarket industry, I noticed that while everyone bitched about coffee prices rising (and this was in the Jimmy Carter years when they were really rising, beef prices going up, and gas prices skyrocketing, everyone stayed mum about beer and smokes.

    "Necessities" mustn't rise -- we'll make a stink about it. But as for our little vices, well better just shut up. Albany's figured that out. They're only dumb up to a point, y'know.


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