This is a remarkably clear-eyed view of last year's "tax swap." The swap will make South Carolina taxes more regressive than they already are, and will result in a net tax hike on many of the low-income families hit hardest by the current system. And the Sun-News' statement on what we should expect to get out of a cig tax hike is dead-on, too: "The point of a cigarette tax bump would be to curtail smoking."
The stench of hypocrisy emanates from the S.C. House leadership's rationale for refusing to raise our state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax. Thanks to unspent money from the fiscal 2007 budget and a projected surplus for 2008, they say, the state enjoys an excess of $1.35 billion and doesn't really need new tax revenue.
As well, they say, more than a third of House members have pledged never to raise taxes of any kind. So there's no point in pressuring them to raise the cost of smoking.
Both excuses for standing pat at 7 cents per pack are bogus. The point of raising the cigarette tax would not be to pad this surplus (though it would be good public policy to spend more on meeting children's health needs and on helping South Carolinians who need them to buy AIDS and HIV drugs). The point of a cigarette tax bump would be to curtail smoking.
As for members' pledges never to raise taxes, this objection is laughable. Just last year, many of the legislators who made these promises, including most of the Horry County legislative delegation, voted for a 1-cent sales-tax increase for public-school operating expenses.
Their political cover for supporting this state tax increase, which takes effect July 1, is that it was coupled with the repeal of the education operating-expense property tax for homeowners. Therefore, they say, they didn't really vote for a tax increase.
Oh? Tell that to the non-homeowners, especially middle- and lower-income residents who rent, who will pay higher taxes overall once the state's extra penny kicks in this summer. The legislators who supported the education sales tax raised taxes on them to give an undeserved tax break to middle-class homeowners who didn't like it that rising market prices had driven up their property taxes. In this case, their pledges proved meaningless.
And yet. Every time cig tax advocates remind us that they want to curb smoking, not raise revenue, they end up telling us what they really want to do with the money they're hoping not to see. And here's what the Sun-News wants to do with it: lawmakers "should devote all or part of the revenue from the higher cigarette tax to reducing some other tax."
This would be a contradictory and absurd goal in any context. But following on the heels of Governor Mark Sanford's call for an income tax cut to be funded with a cigarette tax hike--which would pay for a growing cost with a shrinking revenue source--this is simply an irresponsible thing to wish for.