Sunday, February 1, 2009

Name Calling: Big Government v. Big Tobacco

There has been a lot of talk recently about the proposed tax increase on tobacco to fund a buffet of state health care programs. With an expected vote coming up in the state house on Thursday, preceded by press conferences from both side, expect this to pick up steam and expect the tone to get kicked up yet another notch. One thing I have noticed lately is a consistent theme arising from the pro-tax tax side of the debate and that is referring to the anti-tax side as “Big Tobacco.”

A press release went out on Friday from the Democrat Party of Arkansas with the headline “Democrats and Republicans United in the Face of Big Tobacco.” It went on the say “At a bipartisan announcement Monday, a call will be made to put Arkansas's health care needs above partisanship despite efforts by the national tobacco lobby to divide Arkansas's elected leaders.”

House Speaker Robbie Wills posted an article to his blog called “Big Tobacco Above the Fold” which decried the evil tobacco lobbyists who had the nerve to show up at our capital the campaign against a tax on their product. He went on to say, “Let’s have a real debate on the real people in Arkansas who will benefit from this healthcare plan without all the strawmen.”

I could go on but the basic theme here is a guilt-by-association attack. Since the evil “Big Tobacco” companies oppose the cigarette tax increase, then everyone who opposes the tax increase must be in the pockets of Big Tobacco or at least not have the best interests of Arkansans at heart. I can tell you this is simply not the case. This debate is a fundamental ideological debate. If your view is that the government is the most efficient way to deliver services such as health care and that the best way to fund these services is by forcefully taking money from someone else (taxes), then you probably support the cigarette tax increase. On the other hand, if you believe that the private sector provides the best solutions and that government should only provide what the private sector is unable to deliver, you probably oppose the tax increase.

As a conservative, I fall in to the later category. I do support funding our trauma system as I have been convinced that both it is needed and our state government is the best place to provide this service. However, Rep. Garner’s proposal will raise an estimated $26 million needed to fund this system. In addition, the funding source will be through fines on violent crimes and drunk driving. For me, increased penalty on these offenses is something I would support anyway. It also seems to me that the 88 state representatives and 34 state senators who voted to increase penalties for cruelty to animals would support these increase penalties for cruelty to humans as well.

On the other hand, the tobacco tax increase would expand our state government by around $200 million dollars. The programs it would create go far beyond the trauma system. In addition, it turns our state government into co-owners of the state’s cigarette industry. No wonder the backers of "Big Government" are pushing so hard for it. If this bill does pass and you receive care from this state sponsored health care system, then find someone with a cigarette in hand and join in with our state government in saying, “Thank you for smoking!”

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