The General Assembly finally came up with a plan for closing the $13 billion budget gap: let smokers pay for it.
The legislature passed a $1 tax increase on every pack of cigarettes sold in Illinois. This will work, if we all do our part.
Right now, according the Centers for Disease Control, 20 percent of Illinoisans are smokers. That means we have 2.4 million smokers in our state. For those smokers to generate $13 billion in revenue a year, they’d have to buy 14 packs a day.
That amounts to 17 cigarettes every waking hour, or a cigarette every three-and-a-half minutes. Not even President Obama smokes that much. It’s especially difficult because the General Assembly banned smoking inside bars, restaurants and workplaces. So you’d have to stay home and smoke all day. Which would prevent you from earning enough money to buy cigarettes -- or contributing to the state’s economy in any other way.
Suppose, though, that everyone in Illinois smoked. All 12 million of us. Then, we’d only have to buy three packs a day. That’s 60 cigarettes a day. It’s doable, if you devote your lunch hour to smoking, then go home and chain-smoke while watching TV or surfing the Internet.
Everyone in Illinois has to smoke, though. Even the kids. The money is going to pay for their education, so why shouldn’t they pitch in?
I know. Cigarettes burns holes in your couch, they make your clothes reek, they cause emphysema, birth defects and lung cancer. But think about the fiscal crisis we’re in: Illinois has the third-highest budget deficit in the nation, after only California and New York. Our bond rating is in the toilet, our payments to vendors are overdue and we can’t meet our pension obligations.
Our state legislators have made it clear that this is the only solution. Because they’re up for re-election this year, legislators won’t raise taxes, and they won’t cut spending on education, health care or other popular programs. They won’t even take out loans to cover pension payments. They’re considering giving Gov. Pat Quinn emergency powers to reduce the budget.
Sometimes, we all have to sacrifice to do what’s best for the state, even if it means sacrificing our health. Smoking is good policy. I suggest buying three packs of Marlboro Reds. That’s what President Obama smokes, and he’s gone a lot farther in politics than the do-nothings he left behind in Springfield.
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