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Tobacco use is bad for your health. But you probably already knew that.
The reality is that anyone who cares already knows tobacco use is a great way to reach an early grave.
Most years, Maine spends around $14 million on anti-smoking programs. Yet Gov. Janet Mills is proposing to move about $5 million annually away from those efforts to help balance her budget proposal.
Predictably, anti-smoking advocates have decried the cuts.
I’m with Mills.
Obviously tobacco use has a very real cost, both in terms of public health and human lives. So, if that is the scourge you are trying to prevent, why not just ban the substances completely?
Of course, drugs are an example of substances we have banned and approached with a criminal — instead of a public health — mindset. And reports came out last week that 502 Mainers died from overdose last year, the highest in a decade.
2020 also saw 425 COVID-19 deaths in Maine. So, looking at the raw numbers, drug abuse is a much bigger hazard to life than the coronavirus, right?
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 2,400 Mainers die from smoking-related illnesses every year. Which would make smoking a bigger problem than COVID and drugs combined, so it must need every resource possible.
But I’m still with Mills.
The art of governing is incredibly complex. Tobacco use has a significant impact on public health, and therefore it has a very real impact on public finances through things like MaineCare. Drug use brings drug dealers, who often undertake other illicit activities, which create criminal justice costs. And COVID needs no explanation.
However, roads and bridges still need fixing; that costs money. Right-sizing our public education system, along with providing sufficient resources to each student, requires both talent and treasure.
Oh, and by the way, we still need to provide courts and police, as well as manage public resources like fisheries and wildlife.
Everything we ask of the government is predicated on the government having the resources necessary to achieve the stated objective. Those resources almost invariably come from tax dollars; from the men and women, and businesses and organizations, undertaking economic activity within the state.
Mills has tried to walk a fine line, making Republicans unhappy by continuing to increase spending in the midst of an economic crisis after her first biennial budget had an 11 percent hike. But she has made many Democrats mad by holding fast to her campaign promise not to raise income tax rates.
The latter group — and myriad left wing organizations — are beginning to agitate. They want to push the Legislature to increase taxes. One proposal would put the marginal top rate at 11.15 percent, kicking in after the first $100,000 of annual income. That would give us the highest rate in the country at that income level. You would have to be a Californian earning more than $360,000 a year before you are in a higher bracket.
It is exactly the wrong idea at this time. There is an emerging consensus in Augusta among right and left alike around the need to increase our broadband internet capacity. We are at a historical moment where many good-paying jobs have shown they can be accomplished from anywhere.
It is the right time to posture Maine as the ultimate place to live and work remotely. Yet, while many professional jobs may now be done irrespective of your geographic location, tax authorities still care about your physical presence. And telling would-be new residents earning $120,000 a year that, in Maine, they will be taxed more than any other state in the nation is a pretty bad sales pitch.
Instead, I’m with Mills. We may need to move some resources away from noble causes to address other important needs while maintaining budgetary sanity. If we do so with an eye towards growing our economy — and our population — then we will have more resources in the future with which to do good things.
Like reminding people that smoking is bad for your health.
Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.