No shame in taxes OK’d by Washington legislature

Cross-posted from the Everett Herald:

John BurbankLet’s talk about taxes.

Talking with state legislators, you get the feeling that they want to apologize for the new taxes they voted for, as if that was the wrong thing to do. They should apologize for punting when it came to staring down the corporate lobbyists who were carefully tending their own corporate loopholes — like BP, for one. And the big banks, for another. But they did come up with some new revenue, which makes sense, both because our citizens need the help and because the taxes themselves will benefit our own health, environment and quality of life.

No need to apologize for that.

Next time you’re at the store buying milk, tomatoes, oranges, cereal, bread and a steak (as I was last night), you won’t be paying any tax on that food. But that bag of gummi bears? That will be taxed. Gummi bears — not exactly food, hard to live off of, and you certainly wouldn’t want to make a meal out of them. That’s the point. We eat too many of these Gummi bears, Luv Pops and Rocky Road candy. If you substitute that Rocky Road with an apple, or just go without, or buy two LUV pops instead of four, you are better off healthwise.

So if that’s what some people do, this change in the law is a good thing by itself. And if people don’t change their consumption habits, at least the state has a little more money to fund public health, disease prevention, long-term care and health coverage. That’s where money is needed, thanks in part to our overconsumption of sweets. So if you plunk down 92 cents for some candy, you may have to scramble for another 8 cents for the tax. Think of it as a contribution to public health. Or put the candy back, and that would be a contribution to your health.

You may also notice that if you buy a bottle of water, the sales tax now applies to it. Twenty years ago most of us just turned on the tap to get a drink of water. The safety of that water was — and still is — guaranteed by our public water systems and our public health responsibilities. In Everett, that water comes from Spada Reservoir. Access to the reservoir is restricted and activities that could contaminate the water are forbidden. Everett’s water is filtered, treated and tested before it comes out of the tap. It is good water. But we have all participated in an explosion of consumption in bottled water. Maybe it’s the convenience, or maybe we’ve been taken in by the idea that somehow this water is better than that coming out of our taps. It isn’t. In fact, it contributes to the degradation of our environment.

What are those plastic bottles made of? The original source is petroleum — that stuff billowing out of BP’s well blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico. Plastic is also pretty hard to get rid of. It doesn’t break down easily in the environment. So if the tax makes you put that bottled water back and just depend on good clean water coming out of the tap, you will have done yourself and the environment a good deed. And if you still buy those bottles of water, at least you’re helping out with funding public services, like groundwater protection, thanks to this tax.

The Legislature raised the tax on a package of cigarettes by a dollar. That’s a very good thing. Reps. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, and Mary Helen Roberts, D-Lynnwood, sponsored this legislation. The price jump is enough for people to take notice.

According to American Cancer Society, for every 10 percent increase in price, purchases by youth fall by 7 percent. That means that almost 15,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in our state will stop smoking or reduce their purchases. That’s fewer people addicted to tobacco, reduced lung and heart disease, and reduced health care costs for our entire state. The new taxes will yield $100 million a year, dedicated to the Education Legacy Trust Fund and other public services.

It amazes me that so many legislators voted against our kids and our health in opposing this tax. After all, you could burn the extra money we get from this tax increase on tobacco, and it would still be the right thing to do!

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Posted in An Inclusive Economy, Column

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