What a missed opportunity.
In a work session the other week, Danville City Council all but killed off the idea of levying a 30-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes as a means to raise money for the city’s stressed public schools and overworked Danville Life Saving Crew. And why? Because some members of council believe too many other taxes have recently been increased.
The idea was first broached by councilmen Adam Tomer and Gary Miller (a cardiologist, by the way) as a means to raise some badly needed dollars in a way that would only hit those who make the conscious decision to buy a pack of cigarettes. Danville currently has no local tax on a pack of cigarettes; buyers only pay the state tax of 30 cents, which is the lowest in the entire country, and the federal tax of $1.01 per pack.
According to City Manager Ken Larking, the local tax of 30 cents would have generated about $500,000, of which $280,000 would have gone to the life saving crew. The money, DLSC chief Robbie Woodall told the Register & Bee, would have gone to hiring more staff to handle a greatly increased call load and to defray other costs associated with the rising number of calls.
But no longer.
Along with Miller and Tomer, only Councilman Larry Campbell was willing to support moving forward with the cigarette tax in the new budget council currently is working on.
Vice Mayor Lee Vogler claimed City Hall is too quick to look to increased taxes to raise revenue. “We’re going to the taxpayer too often in far too short of a time,” he said. “We need to see our revenue grow through increased industries and those things rather than continuing to go back to the taxpayers on it.”
All well and good, sir, if you’re talking about taxes every resident of the city pays, taxes such as personal property and real estate. But a voluntary tax an individual pays when he makes the decision to buy a pack of Marlboros or Camels? And especially for a product that is scientifically proven to cause hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths each and every year? That’s a bit hard to fathom, Mr. Vice Mayor.
It’s even more unfathomable when you remember that more than half of the money Danville projected the tax would bring in would have gone to the life saving crew … to pay for increased calls for medical assistance. We have to wonder how many of those increased calls are for heart attacks, strokes, smoking-caused emphysema and other diseases associated with smoking.
According to Councilman Sherman Saunders, business owners had complained they’d lose business if the city imposed its own per-pack tax; customers, they said, would just travel outside the city to purchase their drug of choice. “We’re trying to be pro-business,” the councilman said. No matter that buying a pack of smokes is usually an impulse buy when you’re paying for gas or picking up a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk.
Now council must consider other means to address the dire needs of the life saving crew. Perhaps, the city should look at the excess dollars from wastewater treatment funds, Vice Mayor Vogler suggested. Taking money from an essential job of producing clean drinking water rather than charging 30 cents on a pack of cancer-causing cigarettes. How ironic.