Raising cigarette tax isn’t the way to fix state budget

Gov. Bob Wise has proposed yet another cigarette tax. Targeting a punitive tax increase on one segment of society to pay for the tremendous growth of state government is unfair. It’s particularly so since these taxes are highly regressive and heavily penalize lower- and middle-income West Virginians.

I understand there are political and economic pressures that arise with respect to balancing the budget. But instead of raising taxes, the governor and the Legislature should cut inefficient or redundant government programs that waste taxpayers’ dollars.

Raising taxes on the poor people who smoke would exacerbate their financial
circumstances. Cigarette taxes hit those least able to afford it with the
harshest possible tax penalties.

It is tough balancing the budget gap without raising taxes, but West Virginia families are facing the same challenge.

West Virginia tax rates for cigarettes are already higher than those of our
neighboring states. If West Virginia again increases the tobacco tax, consumers along the borders will simply buy these products in other states.

A tax increase may also produce a black market for cigarettes.

The Legislature should tell the governor “no thanks” to any tax increase. When the governor reaches into the pockets of the taxpayers for more hard-earned tax money, the legislators need to consider the West Virginia taxpayers who are also sitting at their kitchen tables struggling to balance their family budgets.

First, we need to recognize that the size of government is growing and this
needs to stop. It is clear that state spending is outpacing all other economic benchmarks.

The Legislature should also examine closely the notion that higher taxes –
including cigarette taxes – automatically correlate to increased state revenues. History and logic suggest that higher taxes discourage economic growth.

The legislators can choose to address the need for fiscal responsibility by
cutting spending, thereby relieving the pressure on state finances.

Raising taxes is not the solution. State finances are not suffering because of a revenue problem – they are suffering because of a spending problem.

Legislators must also remember the state has neglected spending the tobacco settlement money to help the state’s smokers quit smoking. Taking the money in a lump sum would mean the small effort to stop new smokers and help those who are smoking to “kick the habit” just won’t happen.

I have spoken to many of Citizens for a Sound Economy’s dedicated members in
the state regarding the state budget – and every one of them advocates cutting
spending rather than raising taxes.

Across the country, CSE members are mobilizing and lobbying their state
legislators to let them know that tax increases are unacceptable. I hope you
will join them.

Alice Click, who represents Citizens for a Sound Economy, lives in Point