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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, March 12, 2017 10:01 pm

Long-term look

Even if Indiana didn’t need revenue to tackle long-ignored infrastructure needs, a considerable increase in the cigarette tax would be justified. Hoosiers have the 10th-highest smoking rate in the nation. We finished 47th on the Gallup-Healthways’ State Wellness ranking for 2016. An estimated 471,100 Indiana children now living are likely to become smokers, according to Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

We also have the 14th-lowest cigarette-tax rate in the nation at 99 cents a pack. New York has the highest rate, at $4.35 a pack. Just 15 percent of adults smoke there, compared to nearly 21 percent of Indiana adults.

Those numbers, combined with the evidence that higher taxes lead to lower smoking rates, would be plenty to justify the $1.50 per-pack increase Indiana House Republicans were seeking. But they had yet another good reason – they needed the new revenue for their plan to cover Medicaid costs, freeing up money collected from the state sales tax on gasoline for a long-term infrastructure plan. 

Unfortunately, the plan drew immediate fire from both the no-new-taxes crowd and Democratic lawmakers – enough fire that the increase was reduced to $1 per-pack in the House-passed budget. But Senate Republicans are still resisting, so House Speaker Brian Bosma said last week he would accept a smaller increase.

That would be unfortunate, because all of those good reasons – and many more – make it a good tool to discourage smoking. Indiana taxpayers spend $2.93 billion a year to treat smoking-related illnesses, Nancy Cripe of Tobacco Free Allen County pointed out on these pages last week.

At least Bosma seems to be holding out for an increase that will bring the rate up to neighboring Ohio. More important, he seems to be sticking to his promise to help deliver a 20-year, sustainable plan for maintaining and improving the state’s infrastructure.

"We’ve kicked this can down the road for generations with two-year plans, four-year plans," he said last week. "It’s time for elected officials to look beyond their term. Not to look to the next election but to look to the next generation and try to solve this problem.

"Not everyone agrees. Some are very comfortable with the can and a swift kick."

It’s rare for politicians to look beyond the two- and four-year terms Bosma references in his remark. Much easier to cave and tell voters they voted for no tax hikes. Give the House speaker credit for taking the long, responsible view and encourage your own lawmakers to find the courage to do the same.