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Blanco new tax strategy: they are all for "health care"

As bad as Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s logic has been in arguing for all sorts of tax increases, her way of going about it has made even less sense – and for more hypocrisy.

To review, first she links an increased revenue source, higher cigarette taxes, based on an activity tied into health concerns, on a teacher’s raise. It’s a tax increase that would affect a minority and is based on voluntary usage. But then for health care, she comes up with a much broader-based tax which is much less voluntary in nature, as in one form or another it will be passed on to consumers and ratepayers. She then strikes first with the second tax, instead of the intrinsically easier tax to pass (because it affects fewer people on a voluntary basis).

It would seem to make more sense to go for the easier one first, but several considerations came into play. First, the sick tax had the support of a portion of those being taxed, because they see the opportunity not only to pick up more federal funds with it but also because they know they can palm off much of tax increase (indirectly) on consumers. Second, health care is considered a much more pressing need that raising the salaries of underperforming educators. Third, as illogical as it is to connect smoking to education raises, it’s even more perverse to connect hospital revenues to these raises.

There’s sort of a fourth consideration, too – any revenue going into health care can expect to attract some matching funds, increasing the “value” of a tax vote related to health care. Note however that this could have as easily applied to the cigarette tax. And the sick tax also has downsides that few seemed to discuss, that it probably will beggar federal matching funds out of the charity hospital system and it may not pass muster with the federal government anyway to get matching funds. In short, in effect the state may get no additional matching funds out of this, costing the state close to $200 million on the deal.

Now, Blanco’s move to say the cigarette tax also goes to health care suddenly makes her a double liar and exposes the hypocrisy of her pleas. First, we were being warned that there wasn’t enough money in the budget for health care which was a necessity and not enough for teacher raises which would be a nice thing to have. So when the state was found to have around $360 million extra over the next couple of years projected, didn’t that mean enough had been found to at least take care of health care?

Apparently not, as Blanco said it had to go elsewhere (such as continuing to overpay nursing homes, keeping legislative slush funds going, etc.). Next, we get this sick tax for health care passed which is supposed to take care of health care needs. Yet now we’ve got Blanco coming back and saying the cigarette tax will be “dedicated” to health care. Didn’t they just take care of that? What about teachers? Well, in effect, Blanco says even if this second one “goes” to health care (wink, wink; nod, nod) it really means money will be freed up from elsewhere to fund the raises.

Why doesn’t Blanco just be open about it: she just wants more money because, as “important” as more health care provision and teacher raises are, they were at the back of the line compared to other priorities that already had staked claim of other funds. She just won’t admit these other things are more important, so important that she’d rather soak taxpayers and consumers more than to make choices in spending.

In fact, if Blanco is going to be this dishonest, she might as well go all the way and propose all sorts of taxes (regardless of whatever newly “found” money appears) to fund whatever she wants – just as long as she says they’re all for “health care.” Need to pay for the Saints, Hornets and rounds of golf? Hey, just tax their concessions more, say it's going to health care (a clever touch would be to say it pays for costs related to obesity from all the sugar consumption during games and golfing), but then really (wink, wink; nod, nod) divert money from the general fund that would have gone to health care to these purposes.

With Blanco, to borrow a phrase from Republican legislators, it’s all just a “shell game” anyway, with us as the dupes.

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