Last year, we were presented with a tempting proposal, the ballot initiative known as Prop 29. It was a cigarette tax that had everything: high-profile, white-hat backers in disease charities (like that of Lance Armstrong), proper bad guys in the tobacco companies, a good tax policy (a higher cigarette tax), and the promises of money for health and cancer-fighting programs that people love.

But Californians wisely resisted the package. The defeat of Prop 29 was blamed on tobacco companies’ ads against it, and those were undeniably a factor. But momentum swung against Prop 29 as it became clearer that the measure, whatever its intentions, was part of the bad old California disease of ballot box budgeting. Tax money that should go broadly to the general fund was being reserved for the favored programs of the initiative’s backers. There was more than a little pay-to-play in that.

We should congratulate ourselves for resisting – it’s hard to take the side of the black hats – but think how embarrassed we would be now if we had said yes. After the Prop 29 campaign, Armstrong, the champion bicyclist, was unmasked as a cheat and a fraud. Imagine how California would have been portrayed if we’d fallen for his ballot initiative too.

But the defeat of Prop 29 doesn’t change the fact that taxes on cigarettes and tobacco are good public policy, and not just because they raise funds. Taxing something gives you less of it, and fewer cigarettes and smokers would be good for public health and finances. And California’s taxes on tobacco products are lower than the national average. This is one area where we should try to be a leader in taxation.

The recent proposal from Kevin de Leon for a $2 per pack tax has run into trouble, but it should be revived. One problem I see with it is that it dedicates money just to health programs. Better to give it to the general fund, so everyone has a piece.

The other problem with his bill is that it needs a name. In order to bring together those who supported Prop 29 and those who opposed it, I suggest: The Thank God We Didn’t Buy That Drug Cheat’s Ballot Box Budgeting Measure Tax. There ought to be a supermajority for that, no?