Our legislators will soon begin their annual migration to Boise, and they and the governor have a difficult and thankless task ahead. But if they pay attention to public opinion, there is a real opportunity to raise money, spare further cuts to Medicaid and save lives. According to the poll that just came out, I am one of the vast majority of Idahoans who think that an increase in the state tobacco tax is a great common sense approach to dealing with budget woes. More accurately seen as a user fee than as a tax, a significant increase--$1.50 per pack of cigarettes--will save lives, protect children and health-care funding. It's a win-win and should be an easy decision for the Legislature. They may even find themselves thanked for it.
On Bush Tax Cuts
Bush's tax cuts, designed to expire by January, have cost the treasury hundreds of billions and helped transform Clinton's $230 billion budget surplus into a yawning deficit. Today we have three alternatives:
1. Many say these tax cuts, that we clearly can't afford, have to go. We need the revenue too much. Let them all expire. Everyone must sacrifice to help reduce our country's budget deficit and national debt. (The downside is that removing tax breaks for 130 million households will stall the already sluggish economy as families have even less to spend and cut back even further. Our fragile recovery doesn't need another hit. Due to tough times, this option is unwise.)
2. The middle-grounders want to let the tax cuts expire for the top 2 percent and reinstate tax cuts for the remaining 98 percent, which are households making less than $250,000. They argue that out of the 300 million people in this country, the top 2 percent of us do not need tax relief while we are trying to climb out of a desperate recession. (This option would cost about $255 billion a year but emphasis on the middle class would be a stimulus for the economy. Since 66 percent of the growth this decade went to the top 1 percent of the population, this is a fair and sensible compromise.)
3. Republicans prefer to restore the tax cuts for everybody, whether rich or poor, even though borrowing to keep unneeded tax breaks for the richest 2 percent among us would add another $700 billion to the budget deficit. (We need the revenue too badly to reinstate tax breaks across the board. If conservatives were as serious about reducing the national debt as they claim, they would choose option one or two over option three's $700 billion fiscal mistake.)