Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

07 May, 2009


In the wake of Teabagging party up at the Capitol, some gentlemen were handing out anti-tax info out on Library Mall a couple weeks ago. I got a booklet which contained, amongst other things, the Constitution as well as Christian Nation garbage. But these guys were serious. They also gave me a DVD and a CD-ROM with a PowerPoint presentation and documents galore.

The CD-ROM had a wonderful document describing how the Illuminati are descended from Satan himself but, alas, the one entitled "Are You a Communist" was corrupted and unable to be opened.

The DVD was a copy of America: Freedom to Fascism, a conspiracy-mongering loony toon's wet dream. In it, director Aaron Russo posits all kinds of crackpot theories such as that the 16th Amendment was not truly ratified and that there is no law saying that you have to pay taxes, Title 26 of the United States Code be damned. Thusly federal income taxes are mulcted from us every spring.

Despite the sheer crackpottery of these people, it got taxes on my mind. I did some reading about Rep. Terese Berceau's bill to raise the beer tax in our fair state. Here's a link to her PowerPoint presentation on it. Since PP presentations are all forged by Lucifer himself, I'll spare you by noting that her main argument is that drinking beer leads to a lot of costs that taxpayers in Wisconsin have to bear. Berceau's proposal calls for raising the tax on what comes out to $0.024 per 12 oz. bottle with some proceeds going to fund treatment programs.

I suspect the beer tax will be raised before this decade is out. Since it is all but inevitable, can we earmark a portion of the funds for alcohol treatment so we can at least pretend we're raising taxes for the stated purpose? Remember the big tobacco settlement about 10 years ago? After the dust settled, all the talk about money for helping people quit and preventing folks from starting dissipated as states paid off debt. Wisconsin, you'll remember, decided to forego $5 billion paid through 2025 for a one-time lump sum of $1.6 billion. It is now estimated that only 3% of the money from the settlement is used for helping people quit:

From the start, the tobacco settlement money was intended to help states pay for health care costs related to smoking illnesses and to fund smoking-cessation programs, though the agreement not bind the states to use it for those purposes.

But to date, only about 3 percent of the tobacco settlement money has gone to cessation efforts, such as "quit smoking" marketing campaigns. Meanwhile, 10 times that amount has been used by state legislatures to plug budget gaps, or by governors to offer tax relief.

But, even if a provision to direct money to treatment programs were enacted, that still wouldn't stop the government from pillaging the funds and redirecting them to shore up the state budget. Look at what happened in New Hampshire:

In New Hampshire, for example, lawmakers in 2000 required that 5 percent of profits from sales of alcohol through state liquor stores be deposited in an Alcohol Fund to pay for treatment and prevention.

However, New Hampshire lawmakers have suspended those payments in each biennial session since, replacing the earmark with their own (invariably lower) appropriation. Furthermore, Gov. John Lynch reduced appropriations for the fund by executive order in 2009, and is calling for further cuts in 2010 and 2011, even though he has supported raising alcohol taxes to raise revenue for the state.

Anti-smoking groups in Ohio had it worse:

Ohio’s smoking rate in 2001 was 28 percent, well above the national average. But thanks in part to foundation-funded projects like the state’s toll-free Ohio Tobacco Quit Line, it had fallen to 22 percent by 2006.

But by that time, Ohio’s economy was reeling and the tobacco money was too tempting for new Gov. Ted Strickland. In 2007, Ohio traded in its future payments for a one-time sum of $5 billion – the largest tobacco bond issue to date. The money paid for a massive property tax relief program for senior citizens and helped build schools.

It did not, however, shore up the state’s economy. This year Strickland pushed through a $1.4 billion economic stimulus package funded in part by money from the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation trust fund. The bill authorized seizure of most of the $300 million in the foundation’s accounts, leaving it with $40 million – less than one year’s operating expenses. The foundation rebelled and tried to shift the money to an anti-smoking nonprofit agency. In retaliation, the Legislature voted to close the foundation. Dozens of anti-smoking programs around the state were shut.

So hopefully you'll understand why I'm skeptical about all the rhetoric purporting that money from beer taxes is going to help people with alcohol problems. It sounds nice but I'll believe it when I see it.

Here's more rhetoric that I'm skeptical of and it comes from my state senator, Fred Risser. With regards to the immanent statewide smoking ban, Risser said, "As soon as this bill takes effect, it will start saving lives of our citizens and saving money for our taxpayers."

Citizens wishing to weigh in at a public hearing about the ban were given a whopping 24-hour notice by Democrat Jon Erpenbach. If the Republicans had done such a thing, the whole of downtown Madison would have been up in arms. But, since he's a Dem and, well, smokers are awful people, it's OK to pull a fast one like this.

But back to Risser. Is his statement true? Will taxpayers save money? Researchers such as Robert Leu and Thomas Schaub, Willard Manning, A. Raynauld and J. Vidal, and Jean-Jacques Rosa find that it is non-smokers who live longer and thusly cost taxpayers more money.

Economists who looked at the figures in many discovered that net transfers go the other way around if one factors in tobacco taxes paid by smokers plus the savings that their early deaths brings to public pension plans and other kinds of old-age care. Not only do smokers pay their way, but they actually subsidize non-smokers.

According to one economist, smokers help taxpayers reap a savings.

Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi studied the net costs of smoking-related spending and savings and found that for every pack of cigarettes smoked, the country reaps a net cost savings of 32 cents.

"It looks unpleasant or ghoulish to look at the cost savings as well as the cost increases and it's not a good thing that smoking kills people," Viscusi said in an interview. "But if you're going to follow this health-cost train all the way, you have to take into account all the effects, not just the ones you like in terms of getting your bill passed.

A couple comments from Willard Manning:

"We were actually quite surprised by the finding because we were pretty sure that smokers were getting cross-subsidized by everybody else," said Manning, who suspects the findings would be similar today. "But it was only when we put all the pieces together that we found it was pretty much a wash."

"Surprisingly, the lifetime external costs of a sedentary life-style are actually higher than the external cost of smoking. ... We estimate that lack of exercise imposes external costs of 24 cents for every mile that sedentary people do not walk, jog, or run."

So, if the costs to taxpayers is a large issue here, would it not make sense then for Risser to introduce a bill which would tax exercise equipment, health club memberships, organic produce, and all the things that prolong life and burden the taxpayer? More generally, if money is the issue, it's in the interest of the government for force people to maintain a certain lifestyle.

Remember when Isthmus' Bill Lueders called bars and bowling alleys "cancer-friendly" back when patrons could smoke in them? Well, I hate to tell him but those places are still dens of carcinogens.

The National Institute of Health has a "Report on Carcinogens" which lists "Consumption of alcoholic beverages" as a "known human carcinogen".

Also listed as a baddie is "Solar UV radiation and exposure to sunlamps and sunbeds". All those college students on Bascom Hill taking in the sun – they're putting themselves at risk for melanoma and must be stopped.

So when are we going to ban those cancer-friendly tanning salons and prevent people from going out in the cancer-friendly outdoors?
|| Palmer, 4:05 PM


We are born in a smoke free world and it is just right that we strive to offer our children the same kind of environment. Be involved and help empower everyone by taking part in the yearly WORLD NO TOBACCO DAY which will be on May 31st!
Anonymous No Tobacco, at 2:58 AM  
Won't someone think of the children!
Blogger Palmer, at 8:36 AM  

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