Mr. Butts rules

John Taylor: April 30, 20070 Comments

Ya gotta love the political intrigues surrounding hikes in tobacco taxes.  Look no farther than Mr. Butts, a man dolled up to resemble a cigarette butt, wandering around the Oregon House gallery on April 26. During a long debate, one lawmaker stretched out on a bedroll next to his desk, the Portland Oregonian reported, while four others played cards.


The Oregon legislature wound up lacking the votes to hike tobacco taxes to  84.5 cents a pack. Proceeds would have extended health insurance to all Oregon children.  Backers say the issue isn't dead. But what is more fascinating in tobacco tax efforts around the country is not killing the issue, but how many ways the killing can be justified.


You might recall California voters rejected Prop. 86 in 2006 that would have hiked taxes 87 cents to $3.47 a pack. Proceeds would have helped hospitals, like Community Medical Centers, and a host of other health entities.


Oregon naysayers and their California cousins said the hikes unfairly targeted the poor. In California, there was fear of bootlegging with dollars going to terrorists. And always in evidence is the wisdom that if you heavily tax something bad, you'll eventually put it out of business, and then where will you get revenue to continue the good works?


Then there's the no-tax, no-how thinking. That may have factored in the changes to SB 24, introduced by California State Sen. Tom Torlakson. Last December, the bill was described as "taxes: cigarette and tobacco products." In the amended version of April 9, 2007, it's morphed into "tobacco product environmental smoke: fee."


You can check out state legislative smoke screens of one sort or another at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html 


What Community does well: Scores of Community Regional Medical Centers staffers scarfed down ice cream and cake April 27 at a celebration of the successful relocation of services from University Medical Center. But  when an injured young man suddenly appeared with an ice bag on his face, there was no shortage of people willing to drop their frosting and get him to the emergency department.


Blog-ender: Perhaps some other blog will have video of this event, headlined in the April 28 Fresno Bee: "Liquid manure is topic of free demonstration."