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MEASURE 50 OP-ED, by Senator Doug Whitsett
October 24, 2007
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.
It 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 social issues!
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.
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