Gov. John Engler signed a bill Thursday that imposed a 50-cent increase in cigarette taxes in order to help balance the general fund’s $1.3 billion deficit.
“The rationale was simple,” state Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek) said. “We needed a non-controversial way to raise revenue.”
But some Ann Arbor residents expressed doubts about the decision’s simplicity and fairness.
“It’s typical government,” six-year smoker and Ann Arbor resident Zack Zavisa said. “They tend to alienate certain groups and praise others.”
“They know that smokers are a certain type of people that do a certain type of thing, and they know they can make money off of them,” he added.
The tax increase, effective Aug. 1, is expected to raise $350 million in the next two years.
Ann Arbor resident Candice Williams smokes but said she finds nothing morally wrong with the tax. “Smoking is bad anyway,” she said, adding that the government is sure to make a profit because many people are addicted to the habit. “They will make money off of it because (smokers) feel like they need it.”
But for many smokers, the tax will be an incentive to stop smoking. Williams said she has wanted to stop for a while and thinks the tax might be enough pressure to do so.
Zavisa also is making efforts to stop, cutting down significantly after smoking a pack a day for four years. “I smoke about a pack every three days now,” he said. But he added that he still enjoys a cigarette now and then. “I like to smoke just as a little break, almost like a meditation.”
Schwarz said he is confident about the Legislature’s decision. “I think (raising the cigarette tax) is probably the most responsible thing we could have done,” Schwarz said. “It’s better than cutting other programs. No amount of cuts can cover a billion without decimating state services.”
Other actions that could have been taken would have involved cutting funds for prisons and education, which would have resulted in reduced prison sentences and higher tuition, Schwarz said.
“There are some other options out there, but they’re not very pretty,” he added.
Of the 50-cent increase, roughly 20 cents will be allocated to education, 25 cents to the state general fund, 4 cents to the Medicaid trust fund, and 1 cent to the Wayne County Indigent Medical Fund, all of which were previously under-funded or cut, Schwarz said.
“People that smoke shouldn’t feel like the government should have mercy on them because they smoke,” Williams said. “It isn’t a necessary thing.”
But some still think the smoking populace is being taken advantage of.
“At this point, we’re at the mercy of what they want to do,” Zavisa said. “As long as they get their money, they’ll be happy.”