Here it is February and already our legislators and petition organizers are busying themselves with proposed ballot initiatives for the November ballot. As is the norm throughout political history, some of them depend more on playing to voters' emotions rather than that which is factually relevant.
Consequently, the responsible voter must study the issues and research the petitioner's claims preparatory to casting an informed vote. The best interests of the community or the state are not always promoted by proposed legislation and amendments.
State Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, has filed two bills to raise Missouri's 17 cent per pack cigarette tax. The first, a $1 per pack increase, requires voter approval; the second, a 12 cent hike, could be passed by the General Assembly.
Despite citing Missouri's current cigarette tax of 17 cents per pack as the nation's lowest, lauding the $570 million or $68 million in new revenue depending on which route is chosen and claims that smokers "owe" the health care system millions, the proposed new taxes remain an unfair bullying of a minority — smokers.
To single out an increasingly small segment of society for added taxation because it engages in an unpopular activity and because there is little in the way of political risk in so doing is patently discriminatory. Moreover, to cloak the tax as "morally upright" as it is designed "for the smokers and society's good" in that it will decrease the use of tobacco is utter hypocrisy — it is all about revenue.
The oft repeated estimate that smokers cost the state $641 million in Medicaid annually is suspect. Studies by Action on Smoking and Health and the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter 2000 offer disclaimers — the former reports the life expectancy of a 30-year-old smoker as 30 more years while the nonsmoker will live 53 years longer.
That and similar tests prove the fallacy of assessing health care costs per smoker without considering the obvious savings due to a reduced life span. I do not smoke, and I will vote no on piling additional taxes on smokers.
Minimum wage increases
"Give Missourians a Raise" has a petition calling for an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 per hour, one which is supported by other organizations as "Missouri Jobs with Justice." The struggling economy, the needs of working families and that some 75 percent of the population supports the hike in pay are some of the reasons advanced for the measure.
However, contrary to the oft repeated claims of former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, 40 percent of minimum wage workers are not the sole source of income for their families. In reality, in 2005, the last time the minimum wage was under consideration, only 1.9 million Americans were earning minimum wage — a figure that included but 2.5 percent of all workers on hourly wage schedules and 1.5 percent of all U.S. employees.
More than half of those earning minimum wage are between the ages of 16 to 24 and living at home — likewise, many are housewives or househusbands earning a second income. For example, only 2.8 percent of workers on minimum wage were single parents and only 1.2 percent of all minimum wage workers were adult heads of households with incomes less than $10,000.
The good intentions notwithstanding, elevating the minimum wage is an entry level job killer. Hit also with increasing costs, the businessman is faced with four choices to cope with a minimum wage increase: Increase the cost of the product, decrease the size or quantity of the product, go out of business or hire fewer employees.
This was demonstrated when the current $7.25 mandate took effect and approximately 300,000 jobs disappeared in the first three months, most of them for teenagers. Before the current minimum wage took effect in 2006, teenage unemployment was 4.4 percent. By 2009, it was 10.2 percent.
When considering a vote to raise the minimum wage, one must realize that the seemingly overwhelming support (75 percent in favor) does not include those who will pay the higher salaries. One must also recognize that increasing the cost of employment does not create jobs. In reality, the reverse is true, e.g., Economics 101's Law of Supply and Demand.
Wages should be defined by the marketplace. Sadly, we have strayed too far from reality to expect to return.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.