Paul Blair

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Proposes Highest Cigarette Tax in Nation

Posted by Paul Blair on Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013, 8:45 AM PERMALINK

In an effort to close Chicago’s projected $339 budget shortfall next year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed increasing the city’s cigarette tax by 75 cents per pack. This would make Chicago the most expensive place in the nation to purchase cigarettes, where the total tax per pack will rise to $7.42.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at Annual Summit

While the Emanuel administration claims that the tax hike would generate roughly $10 million for vision care for low-income students in public schools, countless examples demonstrate that raising taxes on tobacco does not necessarily generate more revenue.

In 2006, Chicago collected $32.9 million in cigarette taxes. After two consecutive tax hikes, revenue fell to $16.5 million this year. Carrie Austin, chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee acknowledged this reality, stating, “we’ve run sales away.”

In May of 2012 when Illinois raised the cigarette tax by $1-per-pack, nearly doubling the state’s tax rate to $1.98 per pack, the tax delivered $138 million less than expected. What’s more, local small businesses lost tens of thousands of dollars as a direct result as consumers purchasing tobacco across state lines.

To avoid higher cigarette taxes, consumers constantly demonstrate that they are willing to purchase the products in less expensive markets. This is especially true for Illinois’s highest tobacco tax rival New York. Nearly 21 percent of cigarettes are smuggled into the state as a direct consequence of their absurdly high tobacco taxes. If Chicago’s goal is to compete with New York’s black market for cigarette smuggling, this is a step in a right direction. If however, Chicago politicians are concerned about the resulting theft, violence, and lost revenue, it’s a complete step in the wrong direction.

Tobacco taxes are an extremely volatile revenue source that prompt future tax hikes. Proponents of cigarette taxes neglect economic realities. To argue that a cigarette tax will increase revenues while decreasing the number of people buying cigarettes is absurd. When prices increase, consumption declines, taking revenue with it.

Mayor Emanuel’s proposed tax hike will do little to solve Chicago’s budget woes. It will hurt Chicago small businesses and when tobacco sales fall, resulting in less revenue for the city, Chicago politicians will again be debating what to do about the city’s empty coffers.

More from Americans for Tax Reform

Acid-Trip Obamacare Ad Costs Taxpayers $3.2 Million

Posted by Paul Blair on Tuesday, September 17th, 2013, 1:11 PM PERMALINK

Taxpayers are on the hook for $3.2 million for acid-trip TV ads promoting Obamacare in Oregon. Devoid of information about the state exchange, Oregon’s newest Obamacare ad features absolutely no information about the health care law and what enrolling in the state exchange means. Cover Oregon, the state Obamacare agency, began airing this ad last week thanks to a taxpayer funded $9.9 million contract awarded to a Portland public relations firm.

Here are the lyrics:

“We fly with our own wings. Care about the same things. We stand strong together. So let me hear you say. We fly with our own wings. Dreamin’ all the big dreams. Long live Oregonians; we’re free to be healthy. Long live Oregonians; we’re free to be healthy."

“Free” has quite the interpretive meaning in the context of a bill projected to cost more than $1.76 trillion over the next 10 years.

With 20 new or higher taxes and a slew of big government mandates, Obamacare was destined to fail from the get go. This ad exemplifies why more people trust Republicans on health care than Democrats – a first in over 20 years. It also possibly explains why 46% of the uninsured have negative opinions about President Obama’s health care law.

Obamacare is more unpopular today than it has been at any point since its passage in 2010. That may explain why Cover Oregon’s objective is to get a song stuck in the heads of young hipsters instead of outlining the true consequences of the job-killing and disastrous legislation.

This ad is the second ad aired by Cover Oregon in an effort to convince people to enroll in the state exchange. The first similarly contained no information and simply directed people to a website.

(h/t to

More from Americans for Tax Reform

City of Duluth Considers Nonsensical Regulations on e-Cigarettes

Posted by Paul Blair on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013, 5:13 PM PERMALINK

The City Council of Duluth, Minnesota will take up a new set of regulations for e-cigarettes at an upcoming meeting that unfairly lumps these products in with traditional tobacco. By banning the use of tobacco-free e-cigarettes in the same locations as cigarettes, the City Council is using unnecessary force on a product that poses no threat to the public.

The emerging popularity of tobacco free products should be encouraging to Council members, not concerning. Studies have shown that electronic cigarettes stand to improve health and prevent disease. By using e-cigs instead of smoking cigarettes, consumers can obtain a nicotine fix without the combustion and smoke — responsible for much of the negative health effects of tobacco cigarettes. For smokers already addicted to nicotine, e-cigs provide an alternative delivery mechanism that does not come with the proven harm that results from smoking.

An unintended consequence of this proposed ban could be to keep Duluth citizens smoking tobacco cigarettes, a product that kills hundreds of thousands of people annually. E-cigs help people end their dependence on traditional cigarettes, which is extremely beneficial from a policy perspective.  

What about second-hand effects? A study released this month by Drexel University concluded that the chemicals in e-cigs are not harmful to users or those in their proximity. That’s probably because you’re producing water vapor.

As ATR’s Patrick Gleason recently pointed out in Reuters:

This new attack on e-cigs demonstrates that for many politicians, it really was always about bossing people around.

 Members of the Duluth City Council would be wise to sack the proposed ban on e-cigs and focus on other, more pressing issues.

More from Americans for Tax Reform

Top 5 Most Ludicrous Taxpayer-Funded Obamacare Promotions

Posted by Paul Blair on Thursday, July 11th, 2013, 5:34 PM PERMALINK

Here are the top five most ludicrous taxpayer-funded Obamacare promotions:  

1. Coffee Cup Sleeves. Oregon may begin printing Obamacare notices on coffee cup sleeves so everyone is aware of the great “opportunity” for higher premiums. Lisa Morawski, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange said, “That’s what we’re thinking right now for getting to those hard-to-reach populations.”

Yes, the hard to reach hipster populations who might fear enrolling if it becomes too mainstream.

2. “Modern Family” Plot Revisions. California has signed a $900,000 contract with a public relations firm to market the state Obamacare exchange. One proposal is to write about the exchange in plotlines for primetime shows.

3. Airplane Banner Ads across Beaches. Federal dollars provided through exchange grants in Connecticut will pay for beach flyovers advertising Obamacare...

4. …and Customized Sunscreen That Says “Get Covered.” Access Health CT, the official state health insurance exchange will even be at Sailfest, a southeastern Connecticut event that attracts more than 300,000 people annually, to promote their exchange.

5. Porta-Potty Ads. Washington’s health exchange is promoting itself to young people in the music-loving state with outreach at concerts and music festivals. Michael Marchland, who does communications for the exchange said, “We’ve talked about everything we could use, even whether we could do some branding on porta-poties.”

A fitting place for those of us with an appreciation of strong metaphors.

More from Americans for Tax Reform

7 Things to Know for Monday

Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, July 8th, 2013, 1:42 AM PERMALINK

1. The Congressional docket is packed full

Unresolved legislative issues ranging from student loans (which doubled last week) the farm bill (which recently failed) and immigration reform (which is still in the early stages of being put on paper in the House) are all on the table.

2. Elliot Spitzer is running for office again

Seriously. Client Number 9, New York’s former Governor will be seeking the position of NYC comptroller. It’s so real he Tweeted it. As if that wasn’t enough Kristin Davis, the woman who provided him with call girls, is running for the spot as well. This probably doesn't help Anthony Weiner's bid for mayor. Something's clearly in the drinking water.

Remember this? 

3. North Carolina legislature extends session to deal with tax reform

After the state house passed the largest tax cut in state history, several sticking points must be addressed before a compromise with the senate can be finalized. The fiscal year began on July 1 and the legislature needs to reach a deal by the end of this month. North Carolina taxpayers will emerge as winners once that’s done.

4. Republican Bob McDonnell Remains Virginia’s Governor

A blog post on Virginia’s most popular political blog sent social media afire when a contributor at Bearing Drift claimed that Governor McDonnell was “in the middle of finalizing a plea agreement which includes his resignation as governor.” Spokesmen for the Governor immediately denied the claim as did UVA’s Larry Sabato. All that is clear at this point is that McDonnell’s tax hikes took effect on July 1st.

5. “No one is talking about Biden”

...said one source involved in Democratic fundraising. Regarding 2016, if Joe Biden’s going to make moves, Politico notes he’s got to start raising money now. Funny enough, they point out that he’s never been too good at it.

6. Unemployment Stuck at 7.6%

In case you were enjoying the July 4th weekend, you might have missed Friday’s jobs report. 195,000 new jobs and no net change in unemployment. If labor force participation were back to pre-recession levels, unemployment would be at 11.1%. On the plus side, 5,000 government employees lost their jobs.

7. Liz Cheney Eyeing 2014 US Senate Run Against Incumbent Republican

Former Vice President and Wyoming native Dick Cheney’s daughter, Liz, reportedly called Senator Enzi (R-WY) to tell him “she’s looking at” running against him next year. That would open up a contentious primary battle between the 46 year old and Enzi. Liz has recently stepped up her political and public appearances around the state, signaling she may actually be considering it.

Top 10 Reasons Obama's Approval Ratings Are at Record Low

Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, July 1st, 2013, 1:57 PM PERMALINK

According to a new poll, President Obama’s approval ratings hit an all-time low at the end of June. The Presidential Leadership Index fell to 43.2 from 48.9 just one month ago, the lowest since Obama took office. It’s no surprise giving all of the scandals in Washington.

Here are the top ten reasons Obama’s approval is plummeting:

  1. Obamacare Tax Hikes: The 20 new or higher taxes on American families and small businesses result in one of the largest tax increases in American history. Six of those taxes took effect this year including the Medicare payroll tax hike, medical device tax, and flexible spending account (FSA) cap. Three more kick in next year including the highly unpopular individual mandate and employer mandate.

  1. Obamacare Resulting in Higher Premiums: There’s are plenty of reasons why 52% disapprove of Obamacare today – 8 points higher than when Republicans blew Democrats out of the water, and House.

Candidate Obama: “If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums. That will be less.”

Example of Reality: “Obamacare, in fact, will increase individual-market premiums in California by as much as 146 percent.” –Forbes

  1. IRS Scandals: Every day more details emerge about absurdities associated with the embattled IRS. First, news that they targeted (see: harassed) conservative non-profits. Next, we learned that they’ve cried wolf quite a bit about lacking funds necessary to operate (see: raid your wallets). Click here for our Top 10 Reasons Your IRS Agent Deserves a Bonus, relating to their plan to pay union employees $70 million in bonuses. Click here to check out a review of the IRS employee credit card program that paid for things like nerf footballs, Thomas the Tank Engine rubber wristbands, and kazoos. Seriously.


  1. Public Knowledge of NSA Overreach: People might not be so comfortable with the fact that, “They quite literally can watch your ideas as you type”  

  1. Unemployment in May Rose to 7.6%: Only in fantasy land does running up a $16 trillion debt, demanding trillions in higher taxes spending, and threatening vetoes on every Republican jobs bill put us on a course to recovery.

  1. No Discernible Plan for Recovery: Still Waiting

Feel free to comment on this post with a link to a plan if you’ve run into one! We’re extremely interested.

  1. Leading From Behind on Energy: Obama’s energy plan speech last Tuesday was underwhelming, expected, and unfortunate. His plan directs the EPA to step up their War on Coal. Despite the fact that coal supplies roughly 40% of American electricity, reality doesn’t seem to hinder the Left. As opposed to increasing energy exploration and production domestically, the President prefers we rely on imported energy to appease domestic environmentalists who have no regard for job loss or the effect on energy rates. It has taken many needless months just to get the President to consider permitting the construction of Keystone Pipeline, which will create 20,000 immediate jobs and 118,000 indirect ones, and billions of dollars in economic activity.

Dana Summers – tribune Media Services

  1. Student Loan Rates Just Doubled: Today, interest rates on federally subsidized student loans doubled, thanks to Democrat obstructionism. With youth unemployment at 16.2%, and unpaid student loans topping $1 trillion, it’s unfortunate Democrats preferred to play politics than provide a solution to this pressing problem. House Republican passed the “Smarter Solutions for Student Act” which would set the rate at a market-based price and even includes a rate cap.

  1. Gave Small Business Employees the 27 Hour Workweek:  Obamcare requires that employers offer health insurance to part-time employees who work at least 30 hours per week. More than two million workers across the US now face cuts in their hours, as companies look for ways to stay in business. Long Beach, California, for example, is cutting hours of up to 1,600 part-time workers to less than 27 hours per week to prevent $2 million in Obamacare compliance costs. These employees have the President to thank for less hours and a smaller paycheck.


  1. Obama Broke His Firm Tax Pledge: Though he made a “firm” pledge that no one under making $250,000 would see any form of tax hike, he abandoned that promise very quickly.

Obama: “I can make a firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.[Video]

During a White House press briefing on April 15, 2009, spokesman Robert Gibbs was even asked if Obama’s tax pledge applied “to the health care bill.” Gibbs replied:

Gibbs: “The statement didn’t come with caveats.”

Ranging from a 156% increase in the federal excise tax on tobacco (16 days into his Administration) to Obamacare itself, denying that the President has raised taxes on people making less than $250,000 per year is a farce.

More from Americans for Tax Reform

Top 10 Reasons Your IRS Agent Deserves a Bonus (with GIFs)

Posted by Paul Blair on Thursday, June 20th, 2013, 3:08 PM PERMALINK

First established to levy funds from farmers in 1862, today’s IRS employs nearly 100,000 people, many of whom are represented by the National Treasury Employees Union. Thanks to a collective-bargaining agreement, the nice folks at the NTEU claim good work should be rewarded.

We agree! Here are the top ten reasons your IRS agent deserves a bonus:

10. They Pray A Lot. Why else would they ask an Iowa pro-life group about the content of their prayers?

"Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood, are considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3)," reads the letter. 


9. They Are Well-Read. They must be, given their inquiries to Tea Party groups about the names and summaries of books read at local book clubs. A kind conservative was generous enough to mail the agency a copy of the Constitution.

8. They’re Very Interested in Where Money Not Sent to Them Winds Up. Despite legal precedent protecting the identity of donors who contribute to non-profits, IRS agents requesting that information were probably just curious.

7. They’re Generous. At a $4.1 million 2010 Anaheim, CA conference, 38 local employees joined the fun by racking up a $30,000 hotel tab instead of attending the conference from home. The Deputy Commissioner even got to stay in a two-bedroom Presidential Suite at the Hilton, which goes for $3,500 per night. The maid service was totally worth it.

6. They’re Artsy. According to the official Inspector General report, at that same conference, the IRS spent $27,500 for an artist to paint portraits. Agency bonuses will help establish the “Collection of Funny Looking Auditors” at your local library.


5. They’re Intrigued by Etymology. "Please explain in detail the derivation of your organization's name” read a letter to the Ohio-based 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.


4. They Do Background Checks. Another read, Submit the following information relating to your past and present directors, officers, and key employees: a) Provide a resume for each.”

3. They’re Dedicated to Serving You Even When They’re Stuck On an Island.  Awaiting the “SS Continuing the Voyage for Quality in Field Assistance” the “Skipper” opines, “Remember what’s important. Enhancing the taxpayer experience, improving quality, and educating the taxpaying public.”

Adding insult to injury but without commentary, the Skipper goes on: “Remember in 2008 when we had the Economic Stimulus Program?” Yes, we remember.

2. They Can Dance.

One exhausted Cupid Shuffler proclaims, “They don’t pay me enough to do this.” Good thing those bonuses are on the way!

1. They’re Trekkies. In a Star Trek-like training video set one hundred years in the future on the planet “Notax”, the stated quest is a “never-ending mission … to seek out new tax forms, to explore strange new regulations, to boldly go where no government employee has gone before.” The citizens on the foreign planet are “Notax-ians”!

One crewman says, “Back in Russia I dreamed one day I’d be rich and famous.” His fellow mate responds, “Me too, that’s why I became a public servant.”

Obviously these guys need bonuses.

More from Americans for Tax Reform

ATR Supports Pennsylvania Liquor Industry Privatization

Posted by Paul Blair on Friday, June 14th, 2013, 3:12 PM PERMALINK

It may be hard to believe but in 2013, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania still maintains centralized control of retail and wholesale wine and liquor sales. The state House passed an industry privatization bill earlier this year and as the Senate crafts their own version of the bill, it is important that Pennsylvania no longer have a hand in picking winners and losers by restricting consumer choice and convenience throughout the entire liquor industry anymore.

The letter from Americans for Tax Reform can be read below:

Dear Members of the Pennsylvania Senate,

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and our members across Pennsylvania, I write in strong support of House-passed legislation that would get government out of the business of selling liquor. As you debate this issue in the senate, ATR encourages lawmakers to pass a bill that ends government intrusion into liquor industry distribution and sales, both at the retail and wholesale level.

Currently, Pennsylvania’s government holds a monopoly on the wholesale distribution of liquor and has six hundred state-run liquor stores across Pennsylvania. Requiring grocery stores, bars, and restaurants to purchase liquor from the government is nonsensical in the 21st century. State control of wholesale liquor operations does not benefit businesses or consumers, limiting competition, consumer choice and convenience.

By stoking industry competition, privatization of liquor distribution and sales would mean reduced costs for consumers.

An added convenience of wholesale privatization is the capacity for wholesale distributors to deliver liquor to licensees. By restricting this convenience, the government places an undue burden on small businesses. Additionally, if the government were to provide this service, it would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Private sector wholesalers, on the other hand, provide delivery service nationwide more efficiently and at lower cost to consumers.

Simply put, selling liquor is not a core function of government and it’s hard to imagine how any reasonable person could argue otherwise.

Passage of privatization legislation would be a boon to consumers, resulting in a much wider selection of brands available, with private distributors offering the most competitive prices. No longer would taxpayer dollars be used to prop up state-run liquor stores. This past fiscal year, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s liabilities exceeded its assets by nearly ten million dollars. Privatization would end this uncertainty and nonsensical drain on state resources.

One argument made against wholesale privatization is that it would mean trading one monopoly for another. This ignores the reality of wholesale competition. Multiple large wholesalers compete with each other by fighting for business amongst licensees and retailers. This drives down costs for consumers by encouraging competition between brands.

I encourage you to stand on the side of liberty and consumer choice by passing a liquor wholesale and retail industry privatization bill, similar to legislation passed by the House earlier this year. ATR will continue to monitor this issue closely and educate Pennsylvania taxpayers as to how their representatives in Harrisburg vote on this important matter.


Grover Norquist

Click here for a PDF of the letter.

More from Americans for Tax Reform

Virginia Delegate and McDonnell Tax Hike Architect Joe May Loses to Pledge Signer

Posted by Paul Blair on Wednesday, June 12th, 2013, 12:09 AM PERMALINK

Twenty year incumbent Delegate Joe May was defeated by Taxpayer Protection Pledge Signer and small businessman Dave LaRock. Delegate May, chairman of the House of Delegates Transportation Committee and one of the key House architects of Bob McDonnell’s $5.9 billion tax hike sank in the polls because of his staunch support for the tax hike and the Dulles Toll Road.

Delegate May was defeated 57-percent to 43-percent by challenger Dave LaRock. Americans for Tax Reform was proud to stand by Dave LaRock and remind voters in the 33rd House of Delegates District that Delegate May was a consistent vote for tax increases and saw no problem voting to send their tax dollars to fund light rail in Hampton Roads.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform stated, “I congratulate Dave LaRock on his victory over 20-year incumbent Joe May. Dave will bring commonsense policies and pro-taxpayer reform to Richmond as the Delegate from the 33rd District of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

He continued, “Make no mistake; House Transportation Committe Chair Joe May's defeat can be directly attributed to his vote for Speaker Bill Howell's misguided $6 billion tax hike. With his defeat, it should be clear that it is time for new leadership in the Virginia House of Delegates. A Republican majority, under new leadership, should work to enact pro-taxpayer reforms and repeal the 2013 transportation tax hike championed by Delegate Joe May, Speaker Bill Howell, and Governor Bob McDonnell."

More from Americans for Tax Reform

Portland Maine Nanny-Staters Work to Ban Styrofoam

Posted by Paul Blair on Thursday, May 16th, 2013, 4:20 PM PERMALINK

By a vote of 9-6, a Portland City Council task force recently voted to ban the commercial use of polystyrene packaging (as it is commercially known, Styrofoam). It should come as no surprise that this is yet another Mayor Michael Bloomberg idea, who seems to have quite the following amongst nanny-staters well beyond the reach of the Big Apple.

The task force – the “Green Packaging Working Group” – recently discussed the use of polystyrene, relying on unfounded scientific claims and a complete misunderstanding of the polymer.

Environmentalists sometimes have good intentions. Clearing the streets of trash, rivers of litter, and human bodies of toxins are noble causes. The science behind claims that polystyrene is toxic to humans, cannot be recycled and does not biodegrade, however, simply does not exist. Evidence to the contrary seems to escape the chemo-phobes seeking to purge from coffee shops and Chinese restaurants containers that make life much easier.

Polystyrene is non-toxic. The collective evidence shows that consumers are not at danger. The fact that phrases like “limited evidence” and “reasonably anticipated” are contained numerous times in reports like those conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program (NTP) seems irrelevant to people who cherry-pick health studies for political reasons.

According to biochemistry Professor Bruce Ames of UC-Berkley, “over half of all chemicals tested, whether natural or synthetic, are carcinogenic in rodent tests” – generally because the rodents are pumped full of chemicals at rates hundreds or thousands of times higher than any human would ever experience.

This might be why not a single regulatory body in the world has classified styrene as a human carcinogen.

The precautionary principle is at work here. Notably a European notion, a common tactic for environmentalists is to ban or restrict substances if they are perceived as harmful, even if there is a complete absence of hard data to prove such. Scare tactics can be a strong motivator for regulations and restrictions, despite the negligence of economic or health harms associated with them. This is not an American standard for policy, as we utilize something known as the “risk standard,” which requires proof before we ban things.

Banning polystyrene could have a detrimental financial impact. One local business owner estimated that using the more expensive paper cups in Dunkin’ Donut franchises would increase annual costs by $10,000 per year. The Portland School Department’s director said that “costs quadrupled when the district decided to use paper lunch trays instead of polystyrene trays, going from 3 cents a tray to 12 cents.” Imagine that impact city-wide, all because of junk science.

Polystyrene can be recycled. In fact, its recyclability can be significant in many “green causes” like “green buildings” and alternative energy production. When it is cleaned, ground down, and heated, it is an extremely inexpensive insulation material. Most windmill blades use polystyrene as a base component and it plays a role in the production of many solar panels. The material is strong, inexpensive, durable, and lightweight.

Recycling certainly requires the consumer to go that extra yard and choose to not throw their coffee cup into the street, so policies should incentivize collection as opposed to banning use. Because of its uses, it is extremely valuable once compacted. Manufacturers nationwide can and do use the product in more than green causes.

Additionally, the plastic coating on paper cups, the ones made to hold liquids for more than 4 seconds, makes them nearly impossible to recycle.

Companies can be incentivized to collect and reuse polystyrene. Walmart, for example, has a recycling program and uses what is collected for picture frames. The city can also encourage the creation of a collection site, similar to ones in Kennebunk or Camden. In 2010, 71 million pounds of expanded polystyrene were recycled including 37.1 million pounds of post-consumer packaging and 34.2 million pounds of post-industrial packaging.

At the end of the day, the Portland City Council should attempt to examine the hard data and facts when it comes to polystyrene and the environment. Nanny-state European-style bans on things is not the best course of action given the possible financial impact and lack of scientific evidence used by environmentalists with a political agenda.

More from Americans for Tax Reform