A couple weeks back Katrina Trinko, a freelance writer from Washington D.C., had a brilliant column in USA Today outlining why “Political cowards love the sin tax.” In it, she rightly calls out the hypocrisy of far too many politicians. It calls out both so-called conservatives as well as the “bleeding heart liberals” who are supporting regressive tax hikes on “sins” to fill budget holes.
“Concerned about the national debt? Alarmed by politicians’ inability to balance budgets? Worried that certain programs will be cut? If so, Uncle Sam needs you … to smoke like it’s a Mad Men episode, drink booze like a frat boy, gamble like a high-roller and glug soda like a parched child.”
The commentary goes on to rightly point out the fact that these taxes fall disproportionately on lower and moderate income families already struggling with strained budgets at home. Instead of drawing a line in the sand on spending, far too many hypocritical politicians are seeking any cover they can find in order to raise taxes.
In many cases, these taxes don’t even have a significant impact on the social or health problem they claim to help fix. Instead, they just encourage people to drink an equally high-calorie beverage or force smokers to buy tobacco products under the table or across state lines.
Trinko ends by pointedly criticizing “weak-kneed politicians” for not being more fiscally responsible and budgeting properly. She suggests that,
“If politicians continue to enact sin taxes, voters should recommend a new sin tax, one that taxes lawmakers who use cheap tactics to avoid making the tough budgeting decisions. Because when it comes to vices that impact the long-term welfare of the nation, that’s a sin much more destructive than driving a gas-guzzling vehicle or enjoying a Coke.”
If lawmakers want to truly fix their state’s budget problems now and for the future, they must consider real spending reforms, not regressive tax gimmicks. As I wrote in my most recent Research & Commentary piece “The Problem With Fat Taxes” over at the mother ship, “Lawmakers who genuinely want to get their budgets under control should avoid hiking sin taxes and instead focus on real budgetary reforms such as enacting a reasonable tax and expenditure limit, reforming unfunded liabilities, and privatizing non-core functions of government.”