Kansas raises cigarette taxes — for the wrong reasons

“Toto, we need to get the hell out of Kansas. This state is bolloxed.”

Many states have raised cigarette taxes for the right reasons — because studies have shown that higher cigarette taxes result in a lower smoking rate.

Kansas is a total train wreck politically and financially. It’s been the source of a conservative experiment from Gov. Sam Brownback and a conservative state Legislature  — that if taxes on corporations and the wealthy are drastically  cut, then it will spur growth. Well, even though Reagan’s Trickle Down Economics was proven 25 years ago to have been a disaster, these guys in Kansas had to learn the hard way that this doesn’t help the state’s economy.

Instead, Kansas is desperately broke and is probably in the worst shape financially of any state in the country, taking a $800 million surplus two or three years ago and turning it into a $400 million deficit. Why? Gosh … NO REVENUES! So, they’re responding by cutting, cutting, cutting. Cutting school days, cutting services, etc.

sam brownback
Sam Brownback

But, you can only cut so much. Kansas Republicans finally bit the bullet and passed a couple of tax increases to address that $400 million deficit. But, instead of raising income taxes on the wealthy (who can most easily absorb a tax increase), they went after the poor with a pair of regressive taxes — a sales tax increase and an increase in the cigarette tax.

Look, I’m all for raising cigarette taxes to a reasonable amount, and Kansas’ cigarette tax was fairly low. The Legislature approved a bill raising the state cigarette tax from a pretty low 79 cents a pack to $1.29 a pack. (In my opinion, a good state tax for cigarettes is $1.50 to $2 a pack … more than that you start chasing people to Indian Reservations or the black market to buy their cigs).

So, I want to say “good job Kansas”, but I can’t. The state did the right thing … but for the wrong reason. A cigarette tax to cut smoking rates — great. A cigarette tax on the backs of the poor to try and balance a budget screwed up by your fiscal mismanagement — bad.

Look, I get one thing wrong with cigarette taxes is that they are a regressive tax. They are. The poor have a much higher smoking rate than the wealthy, so when you raise cigarette taxes, the bulk of that increase is paid by the people least able to afford it. However, my agenda is it also gives people the incentive to quit and discourages teens from buying cigarettes to begin with … and a number of  studies bear this out.

Anyway, it just shows how screwed up the policies are in Kansas, attempting to balance the state budget on the backs of the poor, leaving the radical tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations in place and then cutting services and programs mostly used by the poor. It’s a messed-up state.