Paul Blair

E-Cigarette Tax Hike Press Conference and Drinks This Sunday at Bridget Foy's in Philadelphia

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Posted by Paul Blair on Friday, December 5th, 2014, 2:57 PM PERMALINK

The Philadelphia City Council is considering a new tax on e-cigarettes and vapor products on the heels of a $2-per-pack cigarette tax hike that recently went into effect. Join Philadelphia vapers, e-cigarette users, and local small business owners for a panel discussion on the harmful impact of a new tax hike on a growing industry. 

Americans for Tax Reform and members of the vapor consumer and industry advocacy community will discuss the tax hike over drinks at Bridget Foy's in Philadelphia at 3PM on Sunday, before the Eagles game. 

Speakers will include - 

  • Amit Fridman, Owner of Sababa Vapes
  • Cynthia Cabrera, Executive Director of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association
  • Paul Blair, State Affairs Manager at Americans for Tax Reform
  • Gregory Conley, President of the American Vaping Association
  • Joe Barnett, Board Member of The Vaping Militia
  • Alex Clark, Legislative Director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association


Moderated by Patrick Gleason, Director of State Affairs at Americans for Tax Reform. 

Free Drinks, Especially for the Press! 

RSVP to Paul Blair at 

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Clearly Contrasting Choices in Florida Governor’s Race: Rick Scott and Charlie Crist

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Posted by Paul Blair on Wednesday, October 29th, 2014, 1:50 PM PERMALINK

On Tuesday, November 4th, Florida will host what looks like a nail-biter of a gubernatorial election. Republican Governor Rick Scott is running for reelection against Democrat Charlie Crist. Nearly every available poll has this race tied and the results of the race may have a huge impact on Sunshine State taxpayers.

The records of the two candidates could not provide a more clear choice when it comes to taxes, unemployment, job growth, and the overall economy.

When Charlie Crist took office as governor in 2006, unemployment was at 3.5%, he had made a written commitment to oppose any and all efforts to raise taxes, and he was a Republican. When he left office, Florida had lost more than 830,000 jobs, unemployment had risen to 11.1%, he had signed more than $2 billion in higher taxes into law, he had embraced President Obama's Stimulus package, and he was no longer a Republican

When Rick Scott took office as governor in 2010, he inherited this mess.

He governed as he promised too, however, cutting taxes, reining in spending, and bringing Florida back from the brink of disaster. As a result, more than 600,000 jobs have been created and unemployment has fallen to 6.1%, the lowest it has been since June of 2008. Florida also had a $1.2 billion surplus this year and Scott has signed over $2 billion in tax cuts into law. This includes 24 individual tax and fees cuts up through 2014 and $400 million in cuts this year

Both Rick Scott and Charlie Crist signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to Florida voters when they ran for governor in 2005 and 2009 respectively. Crist, however, broke his personal written commitment, by signing more than $2 billion in higher taxes and fees into law. 

When he couldn’t convince voters to nominate him as a Republican during the 2010 Senate primary, Crist solidified his evolution as Democrat by switching parties. If elected Governor this November, Crist has not ruled out raising taxes again. When asked, Crist said he would raise taxes, “if necessary.” Translation: “I will raise taxes as soon as I can, again.”

Governor Rick Scott, on the other hand, promises to continue his legacy of letting taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money. If re-elected Scott has promised to cut taxes by another $1 billion by curbing property tax growth, eliminating the business income tax, and reducing communication services sales taxes.

The choices are clear. Rick Scott has a record of creating jobs, reforming government, and cutting taxes. Charlie Crist is an Obama Democrat who doesn’t understand that the Great Recovery in Florida wasn't a coincidence. Crist will raise taxes and can’t be trusted to manage what will soon become the third most-populous state in the country. 

Click here to read Governor Rick Scott's second term tax cut plan. 

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ATR and AVA Oppose New E-Cigarette and Vapor Tax in Philadelphia

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Posted by Paul Blair on Thursday, October 16th, 2014, 3:19 PM PERMALINK

Today, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and American Vaping Association President Gregory Conley sent a letter to the Philadelphia City Council in opposition to a proposal to raise taxes on e-cigarettes and vapor products. The bill, proposed by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, would enact a new $2 tax on e-cigarettes and up to a $5 per purchase tax on e-liquids for vapor devices.

The letter reads as follows:

Dear Council Members,

We write today in opposition to all efforts to impose a new tax on e-cigarettes and vapor products in Philadelphia. These efforts come on the heels of a new $2-per-pack cigarette tax that went into effect just over two weeks ago.

A proposed bill by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown would enact a new $2 tax on e- cigarettes and up to a $5 per purchase tax on e-liquids for vapor devices. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in higher taxes will financially cripple new small businesses in Philadelphia. The small but growing segment of vapor specialty stores rely on the sale of these products as their sole source of revenue. To make the products sold in these stores uncompetitive will drive sales onto the Internet and outside of city limits.

That’s precisely why higher taxes don’t necessarily generate more revenue for the intended cause. Increasing public education's reliance on a volatile revenue source means that once businesses have been chased out of the city and sales go online, the city will be clamoring for even more revenue. This proposal is simply a placeholder for further tax hikes. This is particularly troubling in times of tepid economic growth and in light of the 20 new or higher taxes that have been imposed by Congress in the last few years.

Currently 44,000 students are on waiting lists for better performing charter schools. The problem lies not in lack of tax revenue for schools, but with the education system itself. Higher taxes will not rectify the achievement gap of Philadelphia students compared to those across the country and globe. Since the 2002-2003 school year, revenue for the school district has increased by over $1 billion to $2.97 billion. Meanwhile, there has been no improvement in testing scores since 2009, and a staggering 80 percent of students are not proficient in both math and reading.

The proposal to tax e-cigarettes would represent a massive step backwards for a city with the highest adult smoking rate among the U.S.’s ten major cities according to the CDC. A number of studies have shown that electronic cigarettes stand to improve health and prevent disease. This includes groundbreaking research by Dr. Igor Burstyn of the Drexel University School of Public Health on the chemistry of e-cigarette liquid and vapor.

By choosing to “vape” e-cigs instead of smoking traditional tobacco, consumers get their nicotine fix without the combustion and smoke, which are responsible for almost all of the negative health effects of tobacco cigarettes. Studies indicate that more and more smokers are abandoning the thousands of chemicals in traditional cigarettes in favor of smoke-free and tobacco-free e-cigarettes. Indeed, a recent study out of the United Kingdom that tracked nearly 6,000 smokers looking to quit found that the largest share of successful respondents had done so using e-cigarettes (20 percent), beating those who quit without help (15 percent) and those who used nicotine-replacement therapy such as gum or a patch (10 percent).

For decades, lawmakers have tried to mitigate smoking and the harm it causes through excise taxes and heavy regulation. However, 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 new taxes on these products perpetuates an issue lawmakers have spent so much time trying to eliminate, as studies show that almost all e-cigarette use is by smokers looking to significantly cut back or transition away entirely from their dependence on combustible cigarettes.

This e-cigarette tax hike is a shameless cash grab and should be rejected in favor of real reform.

Click here for a PDF of the letter. 

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is a non-partisan coalition of taxpayers and taxpayer groups who oppose all tax increases.

The American Vaping Association (AVA) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rapidly growing vaping and electronic cigarette industry. The AVA's membership is comprised of small- and medium-sized vapor businesses and has no ties to tobacco companies. The AVA is dedicated to educating the public and government officials about the growing evidence that e-cigarettes – battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution and create an inhalable vapor – are harm-reduction products that effectively help smokers quit.

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ATR Endorses Proposition 487, the Phoenix Pension Reform Act

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, October 13th, 2014, 2:52 PM PERMALINK

Like many cities throughout the United States, Phoenix, Arizona has a broken pension system. Skyrocketing costs have driven the city to the brink of disaster. Fortunately, Proposition 487, also known as the Phoenix Pension Reform Act, is on the ballot this year and gives voters a say in the type of publicly-funded pension plans they pay for.

The initiative can be read here.

A number of factors have contributed to the immediate need for pension reform in Phoenix. “Pension spiking,” where employees inflate compensation immediately before retiring increases pension payouts upon retirement, will cost the city over $190 million if left unchecked. This occurs when a city employee close to retirement converts benefits like unused sick time or saved vacation pay to boost benefits.

A select group of retirees have been receiving six-figure pension payouts with this scheme, compliments of Phoenix taxpayers. One recent City manager received an annual pension of $246,813 and upon retiring received $270,174 in sick/vacation days payouts. Another city employee, an executive assistant to the fire chief, received a lump-sum payout of more than $900,000 at age 54. That was on top of his $149,420 annual pension for life.

The Arizona Republic estimates that pension spiking costs city taxpayers $12 million per year. Prop. 487 would prohibit this outrageous practice.

The city's current defined benefit pension system is underfunded by $1.5 billion dollars and annual pension costs have increased by over 40% since 2011 to $253 million. Prop. 487 would replace the defined benefit pension with a 401(k)-type plan for city employees. It would exempt police and firefighters.

The Arizona Republic Editorial Board had this to say: “These dramatic changes will give Phoenix control over skyrocketing pension costs that threaten to strangle the city's ability to provide the services Phoenix residents have come to expect.”

They ultimately endorsed the proposal. “Prop. 487 promises to stanch the financial bleeding that is costing Phoenix taxpayers and seriously threatening city services.The Arizona Republic recommends a 'yes' vote.”

Americans for Tax Reform agrees with the Arizona Republic and endorses Phoenix's Proposition 487.

If you live in Arizona and haven’t already voted, click here to find out where to vote in person.

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ATR Opposes Gas Tax Increase in New Jersey

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Posted by Paul Blair on Thursday, October 9th, 2014, 2:26 PM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist sent a letter to the New Jersey legislature and Governor Chris Christie this week urging them to reject efforts to increase the gas tax. After years of reckless overspending, the Transportation Trust Fund has racked up $18 billion of debt and is close to running dry.

A second hearing will be held in New Brunswick on October 14 where a number of special interests are expected to reiterate their calls for a gas tax increase. The state should reject these calls because a gas tax hike would harm families struggling to make ends meet, families who have had to grapple with 20 new or higher federal taxes over the past several years. A vote for any transportation funding package that raises the gas tax without dollar for dollar tax cuts elsewhere would be a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

New Jersey doesn’t have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem.

A large reason the Trust Fund is out of money is because capital costs for transportation projects are astronomically high. According to the Reason Foundation’s 21st Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems, New Jersey spends $2.02 million per mile of highway, more than any other state in the nation. New York spends less than a quarter of what New Jersey does at $462,000 per mile on its transportation system. Project Labor Agreements and prevailing wage laws have greatly contributed to exorbitant costs and a bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund.

Transportation packages that do not contain solutions for reining in spending and addressing these cost-drivers will do little to solve New Jersey’s long-term problems. The legislature should commission an independent audit aimed at identifying waste and mismanagement of Trust Fund dollars. Otherwise, tax dollars actually spent on transportation projects will continue to benefit those who build roads far more than those who actually use them.

New Jersey is already among the highest taxed states in the nation. Residents pay the highest property taxes and some of the highest income and corporate taxes as well. The state comes in second to last for the Tax Foundation’s Annual State Business Tax Climate Index. Discussions revolving around raising the gas tax make it seem as if there is a race to the top on every tax that exists in the state.

Legislators should work to cut costs, rein in spending, and reject all efforts to increase the overall tax burden.

Click here to read the letter. 

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Liberal Trial Lawyer Mike Woelfel Promises to Raise Taxes in Bid for West Virginia State Senate

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Posted by Paul Blair on Wednesday, October 8th, 2014, 4:23 PM PERMALINK

In his bid to become the next state Senator from West Virginia’s 5th district, trial lawyer Mike Woelfel has promised voters that if elected, he will raise taxes.

Click here to listen.

“I’m the first politician that says I’ll raise your taxes.” -Mike Woelfel

Hold your wallets. Promising to raise taxes is far from a forward thinking plan for pulling West Virginia out of decades of fiscal decline. West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research estimates that by 2030, the state will lose another 20,000 residents. Raising taxes will expedite this process.

Liberal Democrat Mike Woelfel clearly doesn’t understand what’s going on in West Virginia. Hundreds of thousands of people have moved from high tax states to low-tax ones. For decades, the Democrat-run legislature has sat idly by as billions of dollars in investment and opportunities have leapt over the Mountain State. Even for a proud Progressive, this should be troubling.

The WVU study noted, “Positive changes to the state’s business or policy environment…could attract migration into the state.” Higher taxes aren’t the answer.

The Republican in the race for the 5th district is a businesswoman who understands this. Vicki Dunn-Marshall has created thousands of jobs and understands that too many people have left the state because of the kinds of policies that Mike Woelfel supports. Not only does Vicki Dunn-Marshall oppose higher taxes, she put it in writing to voters by signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

By signing the Pledge, Vicki Dunn-Marshall has demonstrated that she is the only candidate in the 5th district that stands with taxpayers and against special spending interests in Charleston. Voters should remember that when they head to the ballot box on Election Day.

Click here to find out where to vote in West Virginia. 

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Thanks to Mark Warner, Another 250,000 Virginians Lose the Health Care They Liked

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Posted by Paul Blair on Friday, September 12th, 2014, 2:01 PM PERMALINK

If you thought you escaped Obamacare’s hammer on your health care plan, you might be wrong in Virginia. Another quarter of a million residents will have their private health insurance plans cancelled this fall, forcing them to find new plans, which may be more expensive. This is on top of the already 850,000 Virginians who received cancellation notices over the past year. 

Lawmakers asked the Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans if these new plans would have higher co-pays. His response? “Absolutely.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for Democrat Senator Mark Warner, who is running for re-election this year against Republican Ed Gillespie. Not only did Mark Warner vote for Obamacare, he echoed the 2013 “Lie of the Year.”

In 2009, Mark Warner had this to say about health care reform:

“Let me be clear. I’m not going to support a health care reform plan that’s gonna take away health care that you’ve got right now OR a health care plan that you like.”

Unfortunately, because of Mark Warner’s vote for Obamacare, if you like your health care plan, you may be one of the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who can’t keep it.

These plans have been cancelled because private health insurers are not allowed to offer plans that don’t meet the requirements of the federal health care law. Some of those requirements for every person’s health insurance plan now include:

  • Maternity and newborn care, regardless of age and gender
  • Diet and obesity screening and counseling 
  • Contraception and vasectomies


A spokesman for Ed Gillespie responded, “Because Mark Warner worked to pass Obamacare, 250,000 Virginians are losing the health insurance they liked, with thousands getting hit with huge out of pocket cost increases while unable to see the doctors they trust." He’s absolutely right.

Imagine if 15,000 of those people (or their family members) were planning on voting for Mark Warner this fall, just as they receive a cancellation notice in the mail notifying them that Mark Warner’s vote for Obamacare cost them the insurance they like. This could be a game-changer in the Virginia US Senate race.


Photo Credit: Office of Senator Mark Warner

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Dramatic Coverage of E-Cigarettes Has Negative Policy and Public Health Implications

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Posted by Paul Blair on Tuesday, August 26th, 2014, 3:38 PM PERMALINK

Pundits with little concern for public health have developed clickable narratives about e-cigarettes and vapor products that miss the fact that they are an innovation that should be celebrated. The fact that annually, more than 400,000 people die prematurely from smoking tobacco cigarettes is rarely a focal point for articles about e-cigarettes or vapor products. And unlike the latter, tobacco cigarettes can have negative health effects if used as directed.

Perhaps the stories about tobacco cigarettes have grown old since everyone knows they cause deadly diseases. Perhaps the “newness” of e-cigarettes, which have a similar appearance to tobacco ones, makes comparing them an easy task. But to neglect that not a single person has died to date from properly using an e-cigarette or vapor product is a disservice to our duty to celebrate technological innovation.

New technology often hits small bumps in the road, especially when electricity is involved. Take Tesla, for example. This year the company recalled 29,000 wall adaptors for the Model S after a cord or wall outlet caught fire. The recalls occurred in the midst of a federal investigation into three of the cars bursting into flames after running over something on the road. After the investigation, Tesla made modifications to ensure the risk was minimized.

Fortunately for consumers, legislators and bureaucrats weren’t clamoring to tax the products out of existence as a result of the supposed risk of spontaneous combustion. E-cigarette and vapor product consumers aren’t as lucky.

More than 17 states in the past year have tried to impose onerous and unnecessary taxes on e-cigarettes and vapor products. Proposals ranged from adding a 95% wholesale tax in Washington to adding a 5-cent per mL of e-liquid tax in North Carolina. These taxes were on top of the sales tax, which the products are already subject to.

Like the Model S, a few of these products have had improper use issues. But, the dramatization of minor incidents has serious public policy implications. The public is still being introduced to the product, but is now bombarded by headlines at Mashable like “E-Cigarettes Liquid Nicotine: Toxic, Unregulated, and Overhyped” and “Deadly E-Cigarette Explosions Add to Health Hazards of Vaping.” Both headlines employ a common rationale used against market-disrupting products: until there are hundreds of scientific studies concluding the products are absolutely and unequivocally safe, scare tactics (and headlines) will be a popular press coverage tool, despite the negative policy or health consequences.

In Congressional hearings, proponents of more regulations, like Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa.) have used the “fear of the unknown risk” argument to urge for Congressional and bureaucratic action to limit the industry’s growth. But while there isn’t much actually being accomplished in Washington, D.C., at the state level, countless legislators have jumped to action, to the detriment of those looking for an easier and healthier way to quit smoking.

If focus is going to be given to a few mishaps with overheated batteries, perhaps some context is necessary. After all, lithium ion batteries like the ones contained in many vapor products have a storied history that plays straight into the need for dramatization.

Less than 10 years ago, recalls from nearly every laptop manufacturer in the United States were issued when a small number of batteries overheated. No one called for an additional $1000 tax to be tacked onto Apple’s iBooks, or wrote about the toxic nature of computer usage. The failure of a select few products was fairly attributed to the need for technological tweaks in the batteries selected for use, not the utter failure of laptops to provide a safe environment for Internet cruising and gaming. 

The same isn’t true for e-cigarettes and vapor products. Federal regulators and state legislators are pushing for massive tax hikes that will cripple the industry and stymie growth, to the detriment of public health.  That is because vivid news headlines have an influence over public policy.

It’s time the press, pundits, and lawmakers give e-cigarettes a fair shot at helping cigarette smokers quit. To do this, the press needs to tone down the dramatization of product mishaps. Lawmakers should end the needless and illogical efforts to kill the industry with new tax hikes that treat these products as “other tobacco products.” Millions of lives are on the line. 

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Why Haven’t More States Reformed Medicaid to Save Money? A Perverse Federal Relationship

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Posted by Paul Blair on Saturday, August 23rd, 2014, 2:33 PM PERMALINK

Twenty-seven states including Washington, D.C. have expanded Medicaid under Obamacare over the past three years. New Hampshire was the most recent state to expand the matching-grant program, which is jointly funded by the federal and state governments. Missing from the debate in many states is how to save the safety net by reforming the program, which consumes nearly a quarter of all state budgets.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that under Obamacare, Medicaid enrollment will increase by 30 percent over the next decade at a cost of $574 billion annually by 2024. While reform at the federal level will take a new Administration and Republican majority in the House and Senate, at the state level, reform can be achieved far sooner. Unfortunately, a perverse incentive exists for states to find budget savings elsewhere (if anywhere), instead of through this program. 

The federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) for Medicaid services is the formula used to determine the federal government’s share of a state’s Medicaid costs. The rate ranges from 50% to 73%, meaning that for every dollar spent in a state on Medicaid services for an enrollee, the federal government picks up the tab for between 50-73 cents. FMAP is the formula that makes a legislator’s task of saving money on the state Medicaid program complicated.

Because the federal government picks up part of the Medicaid tab, they also get their cut of any dollar saved. A state like Virginia receives 50% from Uncle Sam. In order to save one million dollars for state coffers, they would have to cut/save two million on the program. Mississippi, which receives a 73.4 percent match would have to find $3.8 million in savings in order to save $1 million in state dollars because the federal government gets their match as a percentage of all savings.

There is a perverse incentive to cut any money from state Medicaid programs. As the Mercatus Center’s “The Economics of Medicaid” concluded, “The financial terms facing a state seeking to cut its Medicaid spending are unfavorable. In most cases, a state reducing its spending will cut other programs that are paid for by funds covered entirely by the state rather than Medicaid.”

Click here to read “The Economics of Medicaid: Assessing the Costs and Consequences.” 

Stay tuned to our website for more components of the Medicaid expansion and reform debate in the coming days and weeks. 

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Minnesota Republican Jeff Johnson’s ‘Read My Lips’ Problem on Taxes

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Posted by Paul Blair, Jorge Marin on Tuesday, August 5th, 2014, 3:29 PM PERMALINK

Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson seems to think that run-of-the-mill politician promises are enough to prove his bona fides for November’s election. In his bid to secure the Republican nomination he has refused to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to Minnesota voters. The Hennepin County Commissioner stated, “I’ve never voted for a tax increase… As governor, my philosophy will not change.”

Here lies the “Read My Lips” problem. He isn’t the first person claiming to reject higher taxes while refusing to put it in writing for voters. Take Virginia’s disgraced ex-governor Bob McDonnell. When he ran for governor in 2009, he said, “I’ve been a firm believer that I’m gonna tell you exactly what I think… that I’m going to stick to my word.” He went on to say, “I have no plans to raise taxes” after refusing to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. The Washington Times questioned this approach. He went on to make a tax deal with Democrats and ended up being taken to the cleaners. He signed the largest tax increase in Virginia history into law during his final year in office.

Should voters really be concerned about Mr. Johnson though? In a recent interview with the Minnesota Post Johnson claimed that “[He] do[es] believe that we need to broaden the sales tax base and lower the sales tax rate.” Will it be revenue neutral? Or will taxpayers get sacked? Taking Jeff Johnson at his word isn’t something voters are likely going to do in this political environment. He should be careful that this does not become his “Read my lips moment.” It would be easier to believe that his reforms would be revenue neutral if he allowed taxpayers to have it in writing.

Sadly, it seems Mr. Johnson is unacquainted with the political realities of tax hikes.

And the father of all politicians who thought they could play fast and loose with their campaign promises, George Bush Sr. Not even a president is exempt from keeping his word. Though he was Reagan’s chosen successor, as well as the president who oversaw the downfall of the Soviet Union and the president during a popular war, it was his tax policy which doomed him. After foolishly signing on to a deal granting congressional Democrats their tax hikes in exchange for spending cuts which never materialized, Bush lost reelection to the charismatic Bill Clinton.

There is a pattern of failure for politicians who fail to act as responsible stewards of the taxpayers. Mr. Johnson should veer away from this tax tendency and pledge his support for Minnesota’s taxpayers. This will allow him to demonstrate his willingness to be held accountable for his actions.

Call Jeff Johnson at 763-703-5154 and tell him to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge today.

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