We stand at a crossroads in South Carolina as we debate the Governor's Veto of the Cigarette Tax. There are some things that the proponents of a cigarette tax are not telling you. While I firmly agree that reducing smoking is a good idea for the citizens of this state, I think a government using its power of taxation to change behaviors is a slippery slope to it using taxation to punish unpopular activities.
The argument that it will be a deterrence to underage smoking is a ruse used to gain support. If we want to be serious about underage smoking, then let us adopt policies in this state that really penalize youthful offenders.
In addition, the Bill as written is not revenue neutral. We are expanding a program that we cannot afford and we are at risk of (in subsequent years due to historical revenue reductions from this tax) 1) not being able to provide the services to those who are currently receiving them; 2) cutting programs at other agencies to pay for them; or 3) further raising taxes to pay the cost of the expanded Medicaid rolls and new welfare voucher programs.
We should be empowering the individual healthcare consumer by way of health savings accounts or, better yet, simply providing a tax refund so that citizens might make their own decisions with their own money.
This bill sets up a trap for future taxpayers. The legislation adds people to the Medicaid rolls which means, of course, that the cost of Medicaid will rise. The proposed increased cigarette tax promises, hopefully, to decrease the purchase of cigarettes in South Carolina. This means that the revenue from this new tax will decrease over time. Over a short time the revenue from the cigarette tax will fall behind the cost of the new Medicaid recipients. The only place to make up the difference will be the General Fund of the State. That reality means that this legislation actually represents a tax increase on everyone in future years and I cannot support that.
Rep. Doug Jennings stated it well: this vote is about raising the cigarette tax from our 7 cents per pack to 57 cents. Ok, I am fine with that. But let's be smarter about spending the money. Period.