Robert Bentley, entering his second term as Alabama’s governor, has announced a proposal that would increase taxes by $541 million in an effort to plug what he says is a $700 million budget shortfall. Bentley’s move for higher taxes clearly violates his written promise to Alabama taxpayers to: “…oppose any and all efforts to increase taxes” — a promise he was more than happy to campaign on for re-election.
Gov. Bentley’s proposal would increase taxes on cigarettes in Alabama by 82.5-cents per pack — estimated to generate $205 million. Additionally, the plan would double the sales tax on automobiles, from 2 to 4 percent, generating roughly $200 million. The $136 million remaining in tax hikes, according to AL.com, includes $47 million from ending the municipal exemption for the public utilities license tax, increasing the rental-car tax from 1.5 percent to 4 percent, an insurance premium tax, and requiring “… combined income reporting for corporations that do business in other states.”
Relying on cigarette taxes — often a declining source of revenue as more and more Americans either reduce how much they smoke or quit — seems like a foolish way to plug Alabama’s revenue shortfall. The Washington Policy Center’s John Barnes detailed the disastrous decision in Washington state of relying on cigarette taxes to fund a 12% increase in state spending: “But actual collections under I-773 have been $2.5 million less than expected. Cigarette sales decline about 1% or 2% each year. Raising the tax pushes consumers to seek cigarettes out of state or from Indian reservations, or it cuts how much they buy. The state Department of Revenue estimated $220 million in lost revenue in 2003 due to people buying cigarettes via semi-illicit or downright illegal means.” In addition to people quitting or reducing their consumption of cigarettes, higher prices means an increase in smuggling.
The Tax Foundation has uncovered that nearly 60 percent of the cigarette market in New York is comprised of smuggled cigarettes — New York also happens to have the highest cigarette tax in the nation. The Tax Foundation study reveals that Alabama does not currently have a severe smuggling problem but with low cigarette tax states like Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee well within driving distance, higher prices could cause a spike in smuggling activity in Alabama.
Cliff Sims, writing at Yellowhammer News, has raised concerns about the declining consumption of cigarettes and what that means for the Alabama budget as well:
And outside of the obvious fairness issue, those who think a hike on cigarette taxes could be a longterm cure for Alabama’s budget woes should also consider the precipitous decline in cigarette sales over the years.
As a result of the tax hikes, laws banning smoking, aggressive anti-smoking ad campaigns and polling that indicates Americans no longer consider smoking “normal behavior,” the U.S. Surgeon General published a 980-page report last year actually predicting an eventual end to smoking in the United States.
…Alabama hit its peak in 1979, when there were 123 packs of cigarettes sold for every person living in the state. By 2012, Alabama’s yearly cigarette sales per capita had plummeted to 67.
While the governor has claimed that he wants people to pay their fair share, the two largest components of his tax plan are targeted tax increases on two consumer markets — one that is a declining source of revenue and the other, automobiles, is a captured market that people have little ability to avoid (for every 1,000 people, there are 1030 cars in Alabama.)
Couple the cigarette and automobile tax increases with a slew of other discriminatory and volatile (the proposed rental-car tax to name one) tax increases in the governor’s plan and it becomes apparent that Bentley is less concerned with governing than with attacking industries and products he finds to be politically expedient. This is not the way in which Alabama should tackle its budget issues. The fact is, between 2000 and 2009, state spending in Alabama has exceeded the rate of inflation and population growth by just over $20 billion. There is room for spending restraint. A long term plan to reduce the state’s out-of-control spending would go a long way to solve the current budget mess and ensure predictable and sound budgets in the future.
Help Americans for Tax Reform stop Gov. Bentley’s tax hike. Call Gov. Bentley’s office at (334) 242-7100 or click here to email and tell him stand by his promise to Alabama taxpayers to oppose any and all efforts to increase taxes.