The most astonishing thing about the introduction this week of a new cigarette tax proposal offered by Los Angeles state Senator Alex Padilla was that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg joined Padilla at his news conference to cheer him on.
Steinberg forced a few sleepless nights trying to squeeze a budget deal, which included controversial taxes, out of the Senate. He finally succeeded, but the package he worked so hard to achieve must be ratified by the voters in the May 19 Special Election. As anyone who listens to talk radio or reads a blog knows the tax part of the budget package has been generating heated opposition.
One of the charges against the budget deal is that the tax floodgates will open up, especially with projections of dropping revenue and new deficits on the horizon. While supporters of the budget package claim that the taxes passed are temporary to bridge a gap and that we are not seeing the birth of Taxifornia, there’s Steinberg giving ammunition to his political opponents by hailing a new tax proposal.
To convince the voters that the taxes passed in the budget deal are all they have to pay on a temporary basis, the Senate president should declare a moratorium on all tax raising bills. Otherwise, he is giving reason for some voters to say No.
On top of that, raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products to bring in money to the general fund is a foolish idea. Programs relying on cigarette taxes are built on a foundation of sand. As smoking decreases there will be less and less revenue. Voters recognized this reality in defeating cigarette taxes in a 2006 ballot measure.
Calling for additional tax increases while asking voters to continue newly passed taxes is just poor salesmanship. Besides, it is not going to happen. I have to believe the Republicans in the legislature have had it with taxes and the two-thirds vote needed to pass the cigarette tax is not there.