Smirkin' Over Smoke Tax
by Terrilyn Simpson
(Common Sense Independent)
[i]State Rep. Terry Hayes[/i]
Terry Hayes is a big woman. That would not ordinarily be an issue pertinent to noting regarding a state legislator, but Maine Representative Terry Hayes (D-Buckfield) has indicated if she can't outlaw the bad and unhealthful habits of the state's citizenry, she'll make it too expensive to have them -- and add to the state coffers to boot.
Hayes is perhaps being selectively discriminatory, however.
Hayes was talking about cigarettes recently -- specifically about adding an additional dollar a pack tax to cigarettes, on top of the current two dollars a pack tax, so that the stupid people of the state who smoke will no longer be able to afford to do so -- as proposed in LD 499 by Governor John Baldacci.
Apparently giddy at the prospect of an opportunity to legislate the personal habits of constituents, Hayes was just a'smirkin' and a'twitterin'. She scoffed at the idea that smokers would cross the state line into New Hampshire where the tax on cigarettes is just 80 cents a pack. Nonsense. She shrugged off concerns of storeowners that they couldn't take another hit in a state whose bureaucracy had been kicking small business owners below the belt harder than ever since the first inauguration of the current governor.
Hayes' high-handed stance made one sit up and take notice. She held up a small piece of paper by one corner as if it were a square of soiled toilet tissue. It was an informational leaflet handed her by a storeowner, she noted offhandedly. Her smug attitude and gleeful remarks suggested amusement that the guy -- a constituent -- was foolish enough to think she'd care if he, and other small storeowners, are forced to lock up and go away because they'll have no way to replace the cigarette portion of store revenue if the cigarette tax increase passes. "I have no problem with that," she announced. She appeared unfazed that the increase would make Maine's tax the highest in the country.
Never mind if customers who drop by to pick up a pack and typically add a handful of convenience store incidentals cease the whole ritual. Ignore the "floor tax" which will almost immediately hit store owners, meaning they'll have to pay the increased tax upfront on all cigarettes already in their store inventory. It can mean thousands of dollars instantly due the state for the proprietor of even a small store.
Whatever it takes to help the people, nodded Hayes knowingly. Private enterprise is not, after all, likely to be Hayes' strong point. Though publicly a legislator of the people, privately Hayes' professional income is derived from a state bureaucratic source. Working as a guardian ad litem -- to determine the fate of children in custody and child protective battles -- Hayes is professionally dependent on the largesse of the Maine court system and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Her outspoken support for the cigarette tax would undoubtedly enhance her position with the latter.
The cavalier attitude exhibited toward the potential failure of small business enterprises was no less pronounced when it came to trotting out figures to support her stance. When it was pointed out during the discussion that any one dollar a pack increase would result in the levying of an additional five cents, Hayes voiced disagreement. But when it was pointed out that ten cents sales tax is currently charged on the two dollar excise tax already levied on each pack, and that the practice would certainly continue with another one dollar increase, Hayes quickly changed the subject and went on to enthusiastically pronounce that well, anyway........ that, umph...... that something has to be done about the $12 in health costs currently incurred by Maine for each pack of cigarettes consumed by Maine smokers. She cited no source for the figure which is estimated at significantly lower amounts by officials with more expertise -- though there seems to be disparity even in those quarters.
For instance, approximately a year and a half ago, Maine Public Health Director Dora Mills cited the healthcare toll to the state at $8 a pack while recently, Maine Medical Association's executive vice president, Gordon Smith, was quoted as giving a $7 a pack figure for medical costs.
Though the citizens of the state still technically possess the legal right to smoke, acknowledged Hayes, she could help move the ability to exercise that right toward a financial impossibility -- until she and cohorts find a way to ban smokes from the state completely. Just make "˜em too expensive for anyone to get, she chortled.
What a concept -- a legislator on a mission to save the people of the state from their own bad judgment -- as determined by Hayes and political allies -- which leads to the topic of state girth. In Maine, big has become as bad as smoke.
A study released in 2005 by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University claimed that Maine has the highest obesity rate in New England, with 59 percent of adults overweight or obese, and 15 percent of Maine's youth categorized likewise. Subsequently, according to the study, in 2003, Maine spent $273 per person on obesity related costs -- the 17th highest amount in the US.
The study referenced a number of potential steps to battle the Maine bulge. It concluded, however, that "the solution to Maine's obesity problem lies with self-discipline on the part of its residents rather than a costly legislative program that cannot guarantee results."
The conclusion would not, of course, be in keeping with the Hayes approach of overriding the rights of the individual to allow them to be cared for by bureaucrats and politicians. Which brings the issue back to the activism theorizing of Representative Hayes. Using her logic, why not tax the obese?
If you're overweight, and at risk for a whole bunch of health problems, it's obvious that you're becoming a burden to the state, that you don't need all the food you're eating and that it's up to the state to take care of you. There's way more overweight people in the state than smokers even
-- think of the revenue. Just establish the ideal weight for all the heights of all the citizenry, notify the zealots at the Department of Health and Human Services to polish up their policing helmets and launch a new for-the-good-of-the-citizenry awareness campaign and then institute a SYSTEM.
If you weigh too much, your food will be taxed. Period. Non-complying grocers, cashiers and chubby snack food junkies will be fined -- big time.
There could be huge weigh-in rooms at DHHS offices all around the state. It would likely even provide some opportunities to snag some kids from parents who've allowed their offspring too many trips to the trough.
So step up to the scales, Representative Hayes -- your constituents are worried about you and want to save you from yourself -- before the taxpayers end up having to pick up the tab for your over-consumption.
Common Sense Independent
PO Box 408
Augusta, Maine 04332
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