Override Sanford mistake

As expected, on Tuesday Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed a cigarette tax increase that would help fund the state’s Medicaid program, again citing his demand to reduce another tax by an equal amount. The governor is consistent on the cigarette tax, even if he’s consistently wrong.

In his veto message, Mr. Sanford said his opposition to the tax was taken on behalf of “working South Carolinians.” That would have been better expressed as “smoking South Carolinians,” including those teenagers who might be deterred from the bad habit by a higher tax.

Research has shown that smoking declines as the price of a pack rises, and that teenagers are less likely to take up the habit, as well. A portion of the proceeds of the 50-cent tax hike also would be used to pay for cessation programs aimed at teens.

Another $5 million would be used to support the work of Hollings Cancer Center at MUSC, which certainly sees its share of working South Carolinians who have developed life-threatening ailments because of their addiction to a risky product.

But primarily the cigarette tax would provide $136 million to the state’s Medicaid program. That money would be matched three-to-one by the federal government. And it will benefit the working poor of South Carolina, presumably among those working people whom the governor says he’s looking out for.

“This cigarette tax increase will not solve the health care problem in South Carolina,” the governor said, citing increasing mandates in recent federal legislation.

No, but it will bring about $500 million, including the federal match, to bear on the problem, and that’s not an insignificant figure.

Meanwhile, the tax will have the beneficial consequence of reducing cigarette use in the state.

The governor goes on in his veto message to talk about the excess of state spending — in a year when the budget has been cut about $2 billion because of reduced revenues. He cites his effort last year to halt federal stimulus funding to the state in order to force government reforms toward “a leaner, more efficient model.”

We’re all for streamlining state government, too, though we opposed the governor’s effort to halt federal stimulus funding as counterproductive to essential government services, such as schools and law enforcement. His opposition to increasing the nation’s lowest cigarette tax for specific health care needs is similarly wrongheaded.

The Legislature should leave the governor to his ruminations, and proceed with practical solutions to current problems created by a difficult economy and a sharp decline in state revenue.

Increasing the cigarette tax will contribute to the solution. That’s why the Legislature should override the governor’s veto.

source: postandcourier.com

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