In what has become an all-too familiar national trend, Oregon lawmakers are angling to expand children’s health coverage with a tobacco tax increase. A new Reason Foundation policy brief raises serious questions about the tax proposal, Measure 50, which would break precedent by asking voters to approve the tax as a constitutional amendment on the November 6 special election ballot–thereby avoiding the three-fifths majority vote that supporters failed to raise in the legislature earlier this year. As always, the uncomfortable paradox of taxing nicotine addicts to fund children’s programs should be evident: how many of today’s children will need to smoke to make sure that tomorrow’s children have health coverage? In a recent editorial in The Regal Courier, Cascade Policy Institute senior analyst Steve Buckstein predicts:
Measure supporters will find themselves torn between two conflicting goals. Fewer smokers will make supporters happy, while less money for kids’ health insurance will make them sad, or will it? The unspoken truth here is that once the Healthy Kids Plan is in place, it may make no difference to supporters whether there is enough tobacco tax money to fund it or not. Any shortfalls simply will lead to cries for other funding sources to feed a program that by then will be firmly embedded in our state’s bureaucratic infrastructure.