“Sin taxes” sound like a good idea as the Governor
and legislature look for new revenues to solve the problem of too little money
in the state coffer.
Sin taxes are taxes on “sins” such as smoking,
drinking, alcoholic beverages and gambling. Sounds like a great idea. Sin taxes
would make people who indulge in these “sins” pay more of the state’s
Some would even say that sin taxes would decrease
the use of such activities and products. If a package of cigarettes costs 50
cents a package more, people would not smoke as much. If drinkers had to pay
several cents more for a can of beer and a dollar or more on a quart of wine
and hard liquor, they would not drink as much. Increased taxes on gambling would
take from the takers as the casino owners would pay a higher percentage of their
Sin taxes also seem to make sense because these activities
eventually cost al taxpayers more. Smokers run up health care costs. Drinkers
cause more automobile accidents, accident-related deaths, increases health care
costs and financial fallout from wrecked families. The costs of gambling to
society are documented as increasing every year legalized gambling is present
in a community and state. Making the users pay seems logical.
But, there is a significant reverse side. Any time
a government puts a tax on an activity or item, that governments tends to promote
its participation and consumption. The government becomes addicted to the income
the addictive activities and items produce.
For a good example, consider gambling in Louisiana.
The government draws direct income form the lottery and lottery games, so the
government promotes these activities and therefore all gambling. The government
draws revenues from video poker machines and casino, so the government tries
to make their operations easier, and through the tourism advertisements, promotes
them. The legislature had the opportunity to do away with the 5th
riverboat license that has not been granted, but they have refuses so far to
do so and there is action afoot to grant soon this last license. If the state
government begins getting increased revenue from tobacco, do not look for any
action that would further limit the promotion and sale of a product that brings
in substantial revenue. The same is true with alcohol.
Government is not easy.
The long-term, wise solution to Louisiana’s tax
shortfall is reasonable, equitable, direct taxation of its businesses, industries
and individuals. There is no magic cure for the revenue problems that Louisiana,
just like all other states, faces. There is no way to load taxes on one segment
of society so that others go free if a solid base of revenue is to be built.
The bottom line is that citizens pay one way or the other for the services they
receive form their governments and that basic fact should not be hidden.
The next time a government official or elected official
tries to tell you sin taxes, or any other kind of one-issue tax, means so much
to the state of Louisiana, ask yourself “have my taxes gone down since
legalized gambling came into the state? Has the health care of the state improved
since the cigarette taxes were increases, or ever since the tobacco settlement
has been made? Are the schools better since state voters approved the lottery?
Has my income increased because the racetracks operate in our state? Where is
the finance boom promised by off track betting? Have our roads improved substantially
since all these taxes were past?” After asking your self these question,
as the person telling you how much better things are going to be if Harrah’s
Casino in New Orleans gets a sweeter deal, or if the 15th river boat
license is granted.
When citizens understand how much government
costs them, they become more interested in government and its use of their tax
dollar. State government, just like your family is best served when it keeps
spending within the limits of its income, regardless of how difficult that may
Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is
Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Perhaps our great challenge in Louisiana
is to see that Caesar handles his money as well as we strive to see the church