On November 3, California voters will cast their votes for or against Proposition 10, the California Children and Families Initiative. If passed, the measure would increase the tax on cigarettes by 50 cents per pack to fund early childhood development programs.
California's status as a bellwether state gives every American - smokers and nonsmokers alike - a dog in the fight over Proposition 10. The outcome may determine whether similar tax-and-spend measures are introduced in other states. Indeed, one such big-government, money-grabbing proposal, the tobacco legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), has already gone up in smoke.
Proposition 10 backers, led by actor-filmmaker Rob Reiner, are using children as a smoke screen for their $700 million tax hike on California's five million smokers, who are disproportionately poor and minority. The measure would transfer income from the working poor and others to pay for new government spending.
The supporters' claim that increasing the price of cigarettes would discourage teenagers from smoking is based on inconclusive research. In survey responses, teenagers say tougher enforcement of the ban on the sale of cigarettes to minors would be more effective in lowering teen smoking than anti-smoking advertising, peer pressure or higher prices.
In any case, the tax proceeds are not earmarked to pay for any specific program to combat teen smoking. Instead, smokers would be taxed to fund a new state commission, 58 separate county commissions, hundreds of political appointees and perhaps as many as 8,000 additional bureaucrats to provide a "comprehensive and integrated system of services" for preschool children.
According to the state Legislative Analysts' Office, 80 percent of the proceeds would be distributed by the county commissions "to implement programs in accordance with strategic plans to support and improve early childhood development in the county." Got that? The remaining 20 percent would be divvied up by the state commission to pay for media campaigns, parent education programs, childcare and research.
That raises the question: Why should a low-income smoker be burdened with an average of $170 more per year in tobacco taxes to pay for redundant bureaucracies and social programs that have nothing to do with curbing youth smoking when the state is sitting on a $4 billion budget surplus?
The supporters of Proposition 10 have wrapped their anti-smoking crusade in the flag of "saving the children." Truth be told, the measure is a transparent attempt to stick it to the tobacco industry to fund the pet projects of a misguided multimillionaire do-gooder.
Let's keep it real. Young people will continue to smoke so long as smoking is considered cool. If Mr. Reiner really wants to discourage teen smoking, he should encourage his filmmaker buddies to stop portraying smokers as glamorous, macho or rebellious. Such symbols and messages have far more influence on teenagers than a truckload of warnings from some faceless bureaucrats. Further, Mr. Reiner and his cohorts should look at what the tobacco industry and others are already doing and plan to do to prevent youth smoking. Tax-and-spend is not the answer.
California voters should send the Hollywood elites and the tax-and-spend crowd packing. A vote against Proposition 10 would snuff out an unfair and regressive tax.
Faye M. Anderson serves on the National Advisory Committee of the African-American leadership network Project 21, is president of the Douglas Policy Institute and is a member of the California bar. She can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.