By Sen. Doug Whitsett (D-28)
The concept to help poor families pay for health insurance for their kids is an admirable goal; however, Measure 50 is not the solution because it is unsustainable, regressive, unfair, and disingenuous.
It is unsustainable because the source of tax revenue will
decrease as the need for revenue increases. Legislative Revenue conservatively estimates that the cost will triple over the next four budget cycles going from $186 million to over half a billion dollars. The revenue stream will decrease because this tax increase is predicted to decrease Oregon sales by an additional 18% just as the 60-cent per pack tax increase in 2002-decreased Oregon sales by 15%. Also, smokers can buy cigarettes from out of state, or off the Internet, and save $10 to $15 per carton. The program could easily be as much as one billion dollars in the hole within ten years.
It is regressive because smokers are nearly 50% more likely to live in
poverty than non-smokers. Those who hold bachelor degrees are three
times less likely to smoke than generally less educated smokers.
is unfair because it taxes only the one in six Oregonians that smoke to
provide benefits for nearly half the State’s population. In fact, it
allows families making more than $60,000 to be eligible for free or
reduced health insurance costs.
It is disingenuous because less
than one third of the projected tax revenue is dedicated to purchasing
insurance for uninsured kids. Moreover, after back filling the costs of
other current programs, about $65 million is left in the first budget
cycle as a slush fund to be used by the Legislature to spend for other
Finally, it was referred to the voters, as a
constitutional amendment because legislative majority leaders could not
gain the 36 votes (60 % majority) constitutionally required to levy a
new or increased tax on Oregon residents. They selected the referral
because the referral of a constitutional amendment only requires a
majority, or 31 House votes, to pass.
Why is the constitutional
amendment a bad idea? Because this measure will set a precedent for the
legislature to ignore the 60% majority required to levy new or
increased taxes and because it will require another constitutional
amendment to change the cigarette tax.
Even the Measure 50
ballot title and statement of description was fixed by the legislative
majority. They selected words in HB 2640 that polled the best to
encourage a yes vote. The bill included language that prevented either
a review of the language by the Attorney General or a challenge of the
ballot title by the people.
In my opinion, Measure 50 represents
a giant disingenuous step down the slippery slope of socialized
medicine. I voted no in the Senate and I will vote no on Measure 50.