With the rapid decline in oil prices over the past six months, states like Texas, Oklahoma, Alaska and North Dakota have seen adjusted revenue forecasts for 2015. While consumers saved $14 billion in 2014 due to lower gas prices, lower prices have also meant less tax revenue for a number of states.
In the case of North Dakota, however, House Majority Leader Rep. Al Carlson is correct in noting that “the sky is not falling.” Despite lower prices, oil extraction will not end, even if it slows. As such, calls for higher taxes are extremely premature, especially when they hit those most affected by any sort of economic slowdown: low and middle income residents.
Two bills up for debate this week in the North Dakota House and Senate call for raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products (OTPs). Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist sent a letter to the House and Senate Finance and Taxation Committees outlining ATR’s opposition:
Extensive research suggests that regressive cigarette taxes unnecessarily punish the poor without reducing smoking. Smokers often minimize the impact of tax increases like those proposed in HB1421 and SB 2322 by switching to lower price discount cigarettes, smoking fewer cigarettes more intensively, and seeking out low-or untaxed cigarettes, such as those available on Indian reservations. Even if use did decline, the state would not see the revenue anticipated by these tax hikes.
Targeted excise taxes have proven to be unstable sources of revenue, and ultimately can cause a reduction in tax receipts. Increasing the state’s reliance on tobacco taxes by increasing them by as much as $1.56 per pack, as SB 2322 does, will not necessarily generate more revenue in the long term. In 2006, Chicago collected $32.9 million in cigarette taxes. After two consecutive tax hikes, revenue fell to $16.5 in 2013. When Illinois raised the cigarette tax by $1-per-pack in 2012, nearly doubling the state’s tax rate to $1.98 per pack, the tax delivered $138 million less than expected. A reduction in tax receipts is a common occurrence amongst cities and states that attempt to discourage consumption with higher costs.
While the House and Senate bills do not single out electronic cigarettes, it is likely that amendments will be made that could subject these tobacco-free technology products to the OTP taxes imposed on products like snus. The letter notes:
With e-cigarettes, the free market has provided a solution to a problem that social engineers have not been able to address through stiff government regulations. The imposition of tax hikes on innovative products that reduce smoking and people’s dependence on tobacco cigarettes is misguided and will impede proven harm reduction methods.
Efforts to further reduce the income tax should continue to be the core focus of the North Dakota legislature. In the aftermath of the 1980’s oil price collapse, Texas sought to aggressively diversify the state economy. The absence of an income tax lured thousands of businesses and taxpayers to the state from all over the nation. North Dakota should follow Texas, South Dakota, Wyoming, and the six other states that do not tax income so that it, too, can lure taxpayers and non-energy businesses fleeing from states like Illinois, California, and New York.
Proposals that seek to raise taxes should be rejected as unnecessary side shows, no matter their intended purpose.