Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yay! More taxes!

I absolutely cringe whenever the Arkansas Legislature goes in session because it generally means some laws are going to be passed that annoy me.

One of the most aggravating pieces of legislation to be discussed this time around is, yes, a new tax. It seems the state needs $88 million a year to improve health care in Arkansas ($27 million would fund a statewide trauma system, while the rest will be spent on God knows what). How does the state plan to raise that money? A bill has been introduced in the legislature that, if passed, will put a 56-cent tax on cigarettes.

Of course, it's popular to kick smokers around, but anyone who knows what's going on in this state ought to object to this thing for at least a couple of reasons.

For one thing, Arkansas is the home of the budget surplus. This session has about $250 million in surplus money to play with -- money that was collected but never allocated to anything. In the 2007 session, the legislature had close to $1 billion in surplus money to blow on various bits of nonsense.

I should point out that the legislature, historically, has met every two years. My fellow Arkansans, however, must be masochists as they voted in November to approve yearly legislative sessions. That's something we'll regret.

But, I digress. Here's my question -- if Arkansas is running budget surpluses that are in the 100s of millions of dollars, why on earth does the state need to collect a new tax? Why not use some of that surplus to cover a trauma center and pay for other programs that will keep us all healthy?

Yeah, I know -- smokers deserved to get taxed because of the health problems they inflict on themselves and blah, blah, blah. Here's the problem, however. If a government that's running sizable surpluses decides there's nothing wrong with raising taxes during a crippling recession for the sheer hell of it, the chances are good they'll crank up those taxes on something you do care about eventually.

Frankly, I get irritated when the state decides to raise taxes on just about anything. They're already taking too much of my money and ought to be talking about tax cuts rather than new taxes. I know a tax cut is out of the question because the government's not exactly known for giving something back after they take it, so I'll settle for the next best thing -- no new taxes on anything.

Then, there's that lottery to consider. Last year, my fellow Arkansans threw logic to the wind and voted for a statewide lottery to fund scholarships. Unless Arkansas is somehow vastly different from the rest of the nation, then the money that is being used for scholarships now will allocated to the general budget and replaced with lottery revenue (in some parts of the world, that's known as a shell game).

Last year, the state set aside $43.7 million for scholarships, so it's safe to assume that $43.7 million will be pulled out of education and shoved in the general budget after the lottery gets rolling in 2010. In other words, a state which routinely runs large budget surpluses has found a way to get its hands on another $43.7 million. Again, we've got plenty of money pouring into the state treasury and simply ought not allow those rascals to pass yet another "just for the hell of it" tax.

Want to build a trauma system? Looks like you've got $43.7 million dollars that will soon be freed up to spend on such things. Need to maintain that trauma system? Again, let's take a look at that $43.7 million. No one seems to give much thought about reallocating money that will certainly be free in a couple of years. The folks in Little Rock seem content to find some way to spend that for various things while hitting the public up for tax revenue. Who gives a damn about fairness, efficiency, responsibility or any of that other junk?

Perhaps the thing that irritates me the most about this new tax is that the bill in support of it was filed just a couple of days after a 3.85 percent pay raise the legislature voted for itself, constitutional officers and judges was passed and signed into law. We've heard a lot of talk about "tough times" and "recessions" coming out of Little Rock since the legislature went into session last week.

Apparently, sacrifices are necessary during these tough times unless you happen to be an elected official. Our politically savvy governor, Mike Beebe, wisely declined his raise. I doubt if anyone else who benefits from that law will exercise such restraint.


PaulsHealthblog.com said...

When they raise the cigarette tax to 56 cents per pack, the legislature of Arkansas is counting on smokers to continue their same habits. So I don't know if they will reach their budget goal or not.

But most importantly, when it comes to taxes and surpluses, it's not their money. They should be considering ways to get that money back into the hands of the people and producers of that revenue.

Democrat or Republican, more and more, it doesn't seem to matter. Why don't they just join together and form the Political Party?

Matt said...

Why do they think taxing smokers is the solution to everything? I guess they know the non-smoking public won't mind it, but it's not fair to make one segment of the population pay for everything for the rest of the population.

Hmm, almost sounds like redistribution of wealth, to me (and I am a non-smoker).

Da Old Man said...

A politician never met a tax he didn't like.
Budget surplus? Don't worry, they'll take care of that.

Karen said...

When will it ever end? What is the use of having a surplus? Politicians must have a different kind of brain.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Paul -- Oh, I'm afraid we are "advancing" toward one political party. We all know how fun that is, right?

I absolutely hate surpluses. All a surplus means is that the government will blow it on crap and find ways to raise taxes later for "emergencies." All the government can do, really, is take money and hurt people. I'm all for limiting its ability to do either.

Matt -- It's truly odd when you consider how the public pays for a lot of government-sponsored programs to help people quit smoking. If enough people do quit smoking and revenue streams are threatened, will the government target another group? Will that group be one of which I'm a member? I wonder.

Da Old Man -- Yes, they always do manage to find ways to burn through a surplus. Typically, they spend a bunch of money on crap no one wants.

Karen -- Politicians represent a different breed of cat, for sure.