To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Stepping On The Necks Of The Poor

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BY GARY EDMONDSON

Some Oklahoma big shots convened late last year to propose a plan for fixing the GOP-bungled state finances.

Touted as “some of Oklahoma’s most influential citizens” by the Oklahoman – long an apologist for corporate welfare – Step Up Oklahoma offered much of what we’ve seen during repeated failed legislative sessions.

The main carrot to entice its acceptance is the promotion of a $5,000 raise for teachers.

The most prominent feature of the proposal – denoting the “we got ours” mentality of these OKligarchs – is the unequal distribution of the tax burden.

Again, we see the proposal to add $1.50 to every pack of cigarettes sold. The elites say such a tax will raise $243.9 million during the first year.

This proposal is not fair. Smokers should not have to pay for the services we all use.

Talking sports down at the Shop-N-Bag recently, I watched one guy come in and buy a pack of cigarettes for $5. Under the OKligarchs’ proposal, that pack would cost $6.50. Another guy bought two packs for $8.50. They would cost $11 under the Step Up Everybody Else Plan. Those are immediate price increases of more than 30%.

Two days after the Oklahoman gave ballyhooey coverage to this plan, it ran an article by Michaela Marx Wheatley of BrandInsight, a cousin outlet, which pointed out that “Oklahoma’s smoking rate is at an all-time low with just 19.6% of Oklahoma adults smoking … ”

Knowing better than to judge folks by the clothes they wear, I’ll turn to other statistics that point out that smoking predominates among lower income people.

In 2008, smokers comprised 30% of the people making less than $6,000 a year; 34% of those making up to $12,000; and 30% of those making between $12,000 and $23,999.

From there, the next three $12,000 brackets fall from 26% to 22% to 21% percent for people earning from $48,000 to $59,999. The next two brackets are spaced at $30,000, with the $60,000 to $89,999 folks smoking at 16%; those up to $119.999 at 13%; and those earning more than $120,000 smoking at a 13%.

So, 19.6% of our poorer neighbors should cough up $243.9 million to fund state government.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoman – which has continued to shill “coalition” proposals as if from Mt. Sinai – noted the plan would, “Raise the starting gross production tax for all wells currently taxed at 2% to 4% and raise the starting gross production tax for all future wells to 4% for 36 months and then tax at 7%, which is projected to raise $133 million during the first full year of operation.”

Yep, some of the state’s “most influential citizens” – and shame on those in those ranks whom I recognized as Democrats – think it just swell for 19.6% of our poorer neighbors to kick in $243.9 million to the state coffers while our largest industry – whose preferential legislative treatment triggered this mess – ponies up $110.9 million less.

Nor is there any provision to equalize the “sin tax” contribution for smoking cigarettes that has non-smoking Oklahomans kicking in our fair share.

Ms. Wheatley’s article consistently cites obesity as a health risk on par with smoking:

“Tobacco use and obesity are the primary risk factors for cancer and cardiovascular disease, which are the leading causes of death among Oklahomans.”

We established that the $1.50 per box cigarette tax was roughly a 30% price hike. By cutting that in half, say, and imposing another 15% tax on all ice cream and soda pop sales to discourage sugar consumption, everyone in the state could contribute to the cause.

Well, they should just quit smoking?

Nicotine has tested to be just as addictive as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines and more addictive than alcohol.

Nicotine has also tested to reduce stress, which a lot of low-income people face on a daily basis. Then, too, once someone is hooked, the next puff will reduce the stress of their nicotine craving.

Writing for the Washington Post in 2015, Keith Humphreys, a professor and director of Mental Health Policy at Stanford’s Department of Psychiatry, points to three reasons for heavier smoking among lower income people:

  1. Lower income smokers take longer and deeper drags on their cigarettes than others;
  2. The peer pressure of living and working within a higher smoking group makes it harder to quit;
  3. Lower income smokers have less access than others to effective stop-smoking treatments.

Humphreys cites another study to make the point that “endlessly raising tobacco taxes eventually becomes cruelly regressive for addictive low-income smokers who can’t or won’t stop smoking.”

This addiction, he adds, could send smokers “into the black market for untaxed cigarettes.”

In fact, the only other opposition I’ve seen to the cigarette tax increase was credited to Republican state representatives in eastern Oklahoma, who feared the tax hike would send their constituents to Arkansas to buy their smokes and reduce local revenues – from other purchases made while on their cigarette runs.

Commercial interests aside, it is just plain wrong to make a small, mostly-struggling segment of society foot the bill for state government.

I know that fair taxation is a foreign concept to some, especially the wealthy – almost as unthinkable as the 7% gross production tax that we once had and which would put us in line with other petroleum producing states.

It was announced last month that 1% of the world’s population holds 82% of its wealth. Oklahoma’s Greedhead Coalition and its minions seem determined to skew prosperity even further in favor of the rich.

When they do that, it’s just good bidness. To point it out, bad manners.

Duncan resident Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party

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