Our view: Good idea — poor mechanism
Proposed Amendment 72 seeks to increase the state tobacco tax by way of a constitutional amendment
Though we agree with the spirit of the amendment, we think initiating this change through a constitutional amendment is the wrong strategy.
On Nov. 8, Colorado voters will decide the fate of a number of constitutional amendments and propositions, among them, Amendment 72, which seeks to increase the state tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products and use the extra revenue to fund a specific set of programs.
In considering this proposed amendment, we find ourselves somewhat conflicted; we support the goals outlined in the measure, yet we oppose the use of a constitutional amendment to achieve them.
This is an unfortunate conflict, because there is much to like in Amendment 72.
According to the 2016 State Ballot Information Booklet, the tobacco tax increase would generate an estimated $315.7 million annually, money which would — by the language of the amendment — be used to fund Medicaid, children’s health care, tobacco education programs, disease prevention and treatment, research into tobacco-related health issues, tobacco education and prevention programs, veterans’ programs, child and adolescent mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment, construction of community health centers and student loan repayment for health care professionals working in rural or underserved areas of Colorado.
These are all worthy endeavors, and there is a certain measure of poetic justice in the idea of tobacco tax revenue being earmarked to help alleviate some of the problems associated with tobacco use.
We also agree with the logic articulated by proponents of the amendment, specifically, that increasing the price of tobacco products may encourage some tobacco users to quit and, more importantly, discourage some youngsters from ever picking up this deadly habit.
And it is deadly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking causes some 480,000 deaths annually in the United States, about 42,000 of that number resulting from exposure to second-hand smoke, and it’s hard to oppose a measure that might alleviate this horrific toll.
Even so, we cannot support the amendment.
Among the arguments against the measure listed in the 2016 State Ballot Information Booklet, Amendment 72 would create a constitutional requirement that revenue from the new taxes must be spent on specific programs, even if the programs were later found to be ineffective or if tax revenue ultimately decreased due to a drop in tobacco use.
Changing the requirements would require another voter-approved constitutional amendment.
By its own language, the purpose of the Colorado Constitution is to “assert our rights, acknowledge our duties and proclaim the principles upon which our government is founded …,” in other words, to establish a framework for government, not enumerate specific statutory requirements within that framework.
As worthy as the goals of the measure are, a constitutional amendment is the wrong way to go about achieving them.
For this reason, we must reluctantly oppose Amendment 72.
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