A Tax Switch Worth Discussing
Missouri Sen. John Lamping (R-Dist. 24), who is no longer my senator because of redistricting, has introduced a bill to basically trade a cigarette tax increase for an income tax decrease. His bill aims to remove the state income tax on the first $2,000 everyone makes, and to offset it with a cigarette tax increase of 26 cents per pack. (Thanks to johncombest.com for the above links.)
I think this is definitely an idea worth discussing. Everyone in the state would benefit from the tax cut (approximately $35 per worker, and part-time employees would benefit just as much as full-time — unless they are really part-time), and smokers would only pay more after they buy their 135th pack of smokes for the year. Basically, a pack-a-day smoker would pay an extra $60 per year in taxes under this plan, while more casual smokers would basically break even or come out ahead. (Is there anyone left alive who still smokes more than one pack a day? I mean, other than this kid, who doesn’t pay American tobacco taxes.)
The small size of the cigarette tax increase in this bill makes it immune from our criticisms that residents of other states would stop buying their cigarettes here, and thus cost Missouri that voluntary money. Of course, some marginal level of out-of-state purchases will be lost, but for the most part, Missouri’s tobacco tax would still be much lower than surrounding states. I think most of our commuters, visitors, etc., who enjoy a draw would still make a point to buy their smokes here.
I like the part of this proposal that all Missourians would benefit equally from the income tax cut. I like that casual smokers would roughly break even, and heavy smokers would only see a small tax increase. I like that out-of-state smokers would likely still continue to buy here when possible.
I do not necessarily like that a percent of the population (the smokers) are being targeted to fund a general benefit. However, we crossed that bridge a long time ago, and this proposal is far less drastic, and more equitable, than many similar proposals. I do not deny the political reality that tobacco taxes are going to be increased at some point. If that reality takes the form of a small cigarette tax hike that funds a tax cut for all Missouri workers (including the smokers), then Missouri could do a lot worse.
It is not just that the state could do worse, it is that we probably would do worse, such as some drastic cigarette tax hike that drives out-of-state buyers back home and uses the new tax money to fund a new tax credit only for films about ethanol-powered historic buildings near transit.
I think Sen. Lamping’s proposal has a lot of merit and deserves serious discussion.