Tax on tobacco will pay off for a decade or maybe a century, unless every jurisdiction in America from local to federal outlaws the growing, manufacture or possession of tobacco.
What a quandary: Lawmakers will be saying NO to outlawing tobacco because they need the tax to pay for medical training and care for tobacco users.
Worse still: Obesity actually costs less as our state lowers the tax on food but it costs as much in health care as the use of tobacco.
So, before long, the legislature will pass a tax on food based on nutritional value. Junk-food tax doubled and vegetable tax eliminated.
Stop smoking, stop overeating and we won't need more medical facilities and professionals nearly so bad!
Meanwhile, deal with the reality. Smokers will pay as long as tobacco is legal. Making it illegal would make most quit. Suicide isn't legal in most states, unless one commits suicide by overeating and smoking.
The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas
Tobacco Tax Passes With Firm Support
By Doug Thompson
THE MORNING NEWS
LITTLE ROCK -- A tobacco tax for health care passed the Senate 28-7 on Thursday with support from most Northwest Arkansas lawmakers.
"It was a hard vote but it was the right vote," said Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette. "It will be good for Arkansas and good for the district, but it wasn't easy."
The biggest single project the 56-cent-a-pack tax will pay for is a statewide system for treating traumatic injuries, but one of the projects the tax will pay for under Gov. Mike Beebe's plan is a satellite campus for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The project will be in Fayetteville at the former Washington Regional Medical Center.
"It was a hard decision, but I feel the expansion of the state medical school is needed, especially with their planned residency program in psychiatry," said Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers. "We've had many, many struggles with caring for the mentally ill in our part of the state. Now they're no longer going to be sent to jail or sent to hospitals and housed in ICU," or intensive care unit.
The Legislature appropriated $2 million in 2007 to help open psychiatric care beds in Springdale five years after the last such beds closed in the region.
Bledsoe and Hendren voted for the measure along with Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville. Sen. Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins, voted against it. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the governor. The measure has an emergency clause that will put the tax into effect March 1. Beebe said he would sign the bill within days, but that no formal signing date is set.
Pritchard struggled with his decision but couldn't support a major tax increase during a recession, he said.
"I was obviously torn, and thought we could find other ways to fund trauma centers and the medical school," he said. "I was especially disappointed that there was nothing in this proposal for substance abuse treatment and drug courts was left out, but perhaps we can divert money from our court settlement with tobacco companies for health claims for that. It was a good debate and a tough vote."
The estimated $88 million in revenue from the taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products is not earmarked for health projects, but will go into general state revenue "as a matter of good public policy," Beebe said in a news conference after the vote.
"We had some lawmakers, especially new lawmakers, who had trouble with that. There are some things that you use special revenues for but in general it is better public policy not to have revenue tied to specific causes. Nobody has the least inkling of doing anything but what we've said we're going to do with that money. There are no tricks. I will do everything in my power to make sure that this plan will be exactly what was sold" to lawmakers, Beebe said.
The decision to pass the tax "ensures continuing funding" for the medical school project, Beebe said. "The community had raised $3 million and we had promised we would match that if the tax passed or not. We were going to honor that with $3 million in capital funds. However, that was going to be a pretty hollow promise without money for continuing operations."
The existing medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences main campus in Little Rock had run out of places for medical residents to continue their training, Beebe said. "We were going to have to send residents to North Carolina," he said. "When you send them out-of-state, you're enhancing your chances of losing them."
The medical school will start in the fall semester of next year. A small contingent of medical school students, five or six, will comprise the first class. Within five years, about 100 medical students and some pharmacy students should be attending classes at the site.
"I think it looks good that Northwest Arkansas supported this in large part," said Madison, because the medical school will locate there and the region will see many other benefits, such as increased support to community health clinics such as the St. Francis House in Springdale.
The future of the medical school project is assured, said Dr. Morriss Henry, head of private fundraising efforts for the project and a former state senator. Henry was on the floor of the Senate during the vote.
"I'm elated," he said. "The medical school is now under way. If there's anything that could stop it, I don't know what it is. This is the most important piece of legislation this session."
Only one member of the House who lives in Benton County voted for the tax in that chamber's earlier vote, with five voting against it. Both Benton County senators -- Bledsoe and Hendren -- voted for the measure Thursday. Asked about that regional turnaround, Beebe said "you'll have to ask the senators," but noted newspapers in the region showed "strong editorial support of a difficult tax increase. It was very vocal and eloquent."
At A Glance
The tobacco tax hike will pay for these programs next year:
• $25 million for a statewide trauma system, including $5 million in one time money.
• $15 million for community health center support, including $5 million in one-time money.
•$5 million for substance-abuse treatment for children and pregnant women.
• $3.6 million to expand eligibility for the ARKids First insurance program for low-income children.
• $3 million for a Northwest Arkansas campus for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
• $2.9 million for the Arkansas Influenza Immunization Campaign.
• $1.5 million for autism treatment and coordination.
• $1 million for the Hunger Coalition.
• $300,000 for infant mortality autopsy support.
Source: The Associated Press
• Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers
• Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro
• Shane Broadway, D-Bryant
• Steve Bryles, D-Blytheville
• John Paul Capps, D-Searcy
• Jack Crumbly, D-Widener
• Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock
• Steve Faris, D-Malvern
• Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle
• Kim Hendren, R- Gravette
• Barbara Horn, D-Ashdown
• Gene Jeffress, D-Louann
• Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett
• Bob Johnson, D-Bigelow
• David Johnson, D-Little Rock
• Randy Laverty, D-Jasper
• Jim Luker, D-Wynne
• Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville
• Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia
• Paul Miller, D-Melbourne
• Mary Anne Salmon, D-North Little Rock
• Terry Smith, D-Hot Springs
• Tracy Steele, D-North Little Rock
• Larry Teague, D-Nashville
• Robert Thompson, D-Paragould
• Henry Wilkins IV, D-Pine Bluff
• Ed Wilkinson, D-Greenwood
• David Wyatt, D-Batesville
• Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith
• Gilbert Baker, R-Conway
• Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home
• Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins
• Jerry Taylor, D-Pine Bluff
• Sharon Trusty, R-Russellville
• Ruth Whitaker, R-Cedarville
Source: Staff Report