So what?

The Oregonian editorial board weighed in once again yesterday in favor of Measure 50, which purports to pay for children’s health insurance by substantially raising the tax on smokers. The editors dismiss opponents’ concern about writing a specific product tax into Oregon’s Constitution with two words: “So what?”

Apparently, locking a specific tax into our Constitution (which has never been done before) is just fine as long as it’s “for the kids.”
Of course, this attempt explicitly circumvents another voter-approved constitutional provision which requires a 3/5 supermajority vote in the legislature to raise revenues. Current legislative leadership couldn’t meet that hurdle, so they simply went around the will of the voters and put Measure 50 on the ballot without the required 3/5 majority in favor.

If voters let the legislature get away with such tactics this time, what other taxes will it try to put in our Constitution next? Once the dam is broken we could see a flood of similar constitutional proposals to tax everything from junk food to your business.

Lest the Oregonian editors think only “anti-tax activists” are concerned about placing a tobacco tax in the Constitution, they might want to read the statement John Kitzhaber made the day before their “so what?” editorial. Although Kitzhaber comes down in favor of Measure 50, he does say:

“I agree with many of you who argue that the financing mechanism in Measure 50 is far from perfect on a number of counts. First, I do not believe that the Oregon constitution is the appropriate place to put a tobacco tax increase. This should have been a statutory measure. Second, I believe that financing health care for children is the responsibility of our entire society, not just those who smoke.”

So, once again I find myself in at least partial agreement with our former governor. We disagree on the proper role of government in health care, but we both recognize that our state constitution is no place for a tax on smokers.