The Cigarette Tax

I voted to sustain the Governor’s veto of the cigarette tax increase.

In his press conference to announce the veto, the Governor reminded us that he would gladly support a cigarette tax increase only if there was a corresponding tax decrease in other areas. He reminded us that raising taxes in a recession always harms the economy. In past years, the majority of House Republicans agreed with him and his veto has always been sustained. This year it was overridden and the tax will become law.

What prompted so many Republicans to change their mind? Most would guess fear of the budget crisis and the prospect of further cuts to state services in health and education. Privately, this pragmatic justification to raise the tax was used by many Republicans. Publically, many cloaked their decision in the rhetoric of reducing teen smoking and improving the overall health of South Carolinians even though the tax is not severe enough to do that. The health justification may help some of them sleep better at night, but the fact remains that they voted for the tax to raise revenue. They voted a tax increase to keep state government from growing smaller.

After listening to the debate, I concluded that the cigarette tax represents all that is wrong in Columbia. Instead of proactively pursuing a plan to solve our budget problems, Republicans reacted out of fear that they would actually have to live up to their campaign promises of reducing the size of government. The majority would rather fund state health services with a consumption tax than come up with solutions to reduce the need for those services. The Republican Party of ideas that I grew up with has devolved in the tax and spend party. We have seen the enemy and he is us.

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