Confessions of political incorrectness

Filed under: Opinion |

One of the canons of political correctness goes something like this: “Thou shalt not judge expensive government programs by their results but only by their good intentions.”

As a corollary, when such schemes are proposed the proper reaction is to applaud, encourage or, at a minimum, nod your head approvingly. Critical analysis or discouraging words are heresy.

Eradicating “evil tobacco” is an article of faith for our liberal babysitters who constantly seek to impose their morality on the masses. So, when I didn’t kneel in humble adoration to a proposed $170 million tax increase on smokers, the Church of Political Correctness called down hellfire and brimstone to punish my transgression. (Or they would have, but hellfire and brimstone are politically incorrect, too.)

First, a little background: Before each election in which changes to Colorado law are proposed, a ballot analysis booklet is distributed to all registered voters to explain the proposals and offer arguments for and against each.

Writing the ballot analysis is the responsibility of Legislative Council staff, the research arm of the Legislature. Staffers research background information, take input from proponents and opponents, and do their best to produce a balanced analysis.

The last step in that process is for the Legislative Council, comprised of legislators, to take input on changes to the ballot analysis. In my four years on the committee, my approach has generally been to consider changes, if supported by facts, to the background information and to the arguments section so both sides can make their best arguments.

This year, my “cardinal sin” was to offer a series of changes to the information regarding Amendment 35, the tobacco tax increase, and to acknowledge that, yes, tobacco lobbyists did suggest some of those changes. So, allow me to further confess my sins:

” Pointing out that increasing the cigarette tax from 20 to 84 cents is a 320 percent increase.

” Noting that hiking the tax on other tobacco products from 20 to 40 cents does, indeed, “double” that tax.

” Refusing to ignore that, in addition to $65 million in existing tobacco tax revenues, Colorado receives more than $100 million more each year from tobacco companies (but paid by smokers) from the de facto tax created by the multi-state tobacco lawsuits.

” Informing voters that demand for tobacco products is declining nationally and falling even faster in Colorado

” Noting that local governments (which receive about one-quarter of the tobacco tax revenues) may end up with less money if enough smokers avoid the higher tax by purchasing cigarettes through untaxed markets.

The first four points are factual, but anti-smoking zealots fear that voters given too many facts might not vote “correctly.”

The last argument riles liberals because they rarely account for human nature or economics. Proponents suppose that raising the tobacco tax leaves smokers with only two choices: stop smoking or pay taxes which support government health programs.

But smokers can have their coughin’ nails and avoid the tax by purchasing cigarettes from the black market, including the internet. The Denver Post, which for three days heaped scorn on me as a tainted tool of tobacco, has also accepted advertising telling readers how to buy untaxed cigarettes on the internet.

So why is a socially-conservative Republican sticking up for smokers? Well, The Post’s Diane Carman says it’s because I’ve been bought with tobacco money. At the risk of confusing her with facts, the watchdog Web site FollowTheMoney.org reports that I’ve raised just over $125,000 for two campaigns; tobacco companies contributed just $2,000. Not even Diane Carman is that cheap.

Instead, the answer is simple: I believe in treating people like adults. I don’t smoke and rarely drink, but I oppose “sin taxes” and arbitrary laws aimed at punishing those who do.

State Sen. Mark Hillman (R-Burlington) is the Senate Majority Leader. His e-mail address is mail@markhillman.com.