Thursday, December 18, 2008

A message from Assemblymember Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch)

Assemblymember Tom Torlakson

Thursday, 18 December, 2008

I am hopeful that the Legislature will act later today on legislation to respond to the grave budget and economic situation facing our state.

In addition to the variety of painful program cuts and revenue increases to be debated this evening, I wanted you to be aware of my effort to provide an additional revenue stream that could avoid some potentially disastrous cuts--ones I fear are inevitable if we do not take further action.

As we confront the difficult decisions facing us during this severe budget crisis, I believe we must look at additional revenue options as part of a balanced solution that protects the education and health of our children. Regardless of what the Legislature may do tonight, the depth of our state's financial problems will require billions and billions of additional solutions in the near future.

In addition to the other revenue measures I support to protect our schools and the health of our children, I am reintroducing a measure during the 2009 legislative session that has had surprisingly little discussion so far--a bill to increase the current tobacco tax by $2.10 per pack.

This tax could raise approximately $2 billion annually for education, children's healthcare, and tobacco-related disease, research, and cessation programs. Specifically, about $1 billion would go to our severely under-funded public education system--partially backfilling lost Proposition 98 dollars and "cost-of-living" cuts. And, a portion of this funding could go towards enrolling 700,000 uninsured children into the Healthy Families and dental care programs, fortifying the Medi-Cal program, reversing cuts already made or proposed for programs serving our state's developmentally disabled and autistic children, and restoring and preventing further cuts to protective services for children. Healthier children are absent less and learn much more.

Tobacco smoke has devastating effects on our children. Each year, smoke causes 31,000 asthma attacks in children and hundreds of thousands lower respiratory tract infections. At the same time, reports show that while smoking among teenagers was on the decline in California until 2004, the trend reversed course and increased from 13 percent in 2004 to 16 percent in 2006. Additionally, 11 percent of children, six years and younger, are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in the home.

This tobacco revenue stream will not only save tax payers billions of dollars that go to treat tobacco-related medical conditions, but will also save lives by helping to prevent and reduce smoking. While we are aware this will be a declining revenue stream in the future, it is a revenue source that can be used to fund critical needs today. This measure is truly a win for California's schools, children, as well as our budget coffers.

You may recall in 2006, the backers of Proposition 86 were only narrowly defeated. This measure would have imposed an additional $2.60 tax per pack. Polling still shows growing public support for a tobacco tax. According to the Federation of Tax Administrators, 42 of the 50 states have increased their cigarette excise taxes since 2000, while California's levels haven't changed from 87 cents per pack since 1998. Thirty-three states have a higher tax.

I look forward to working with you on this opportunity to invest in education while lowering health care costs to the state. I hope you will publicly endorse and support this measure--and please let me know when you do so. You may contact me at (916) 319-2011 if you have any questions or concerns.


Tom Torlakson

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