Friday, October 22, 2010

No recommendation on Proposition 302

A first for this 'blog: on one ballot question, I provide no recommendation. Perhaps (Treasurer candidate) Thane will be able to offer more perspective.

The legislature's (constitutionally-mandated) balancing of the budget depended in part on the sweeping of tobacco surtax revenue into the general fund. In 2006, voters approved Proposition 203, the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Initiative, sometimes called "First Things First" after the bill's supporters' name for themselves, which added an eighty-cents-per-pack surtax to the cost of cigarettes and established a far-left, Great Society style board to promote government-run pre-K schooling and well-baby care, which since its establishment is estimated by its supporters to have provided services of some sort or another to half of the children age five and under in the State.

Since the funds were set aside by voters, they can only be re-allocated by voters. This year's Proposition 302 does that. It defunds the activities of the Early Childhood Development and Health Board and sweeps the eighty cent surtax into the General Fund.

On the one hand, this is a good thing. It balances the budget and removes a California-style pre-allocation from our system of government, putting budgeting back in the hands of the legislature, which is better equipped than the single-issue ballot question voter to make cost-benefit decisions in context. And it defunds a program that not only makes Arizona children government dependents from birth, but also one that does so unsustainably, by taxing an unhealthy and ordinarily extremely rude activity that by rights we'd like to see diminished by orders of magnitude and that has over time went from socially acceptable to acceptable in all but the politest of circles to generally unacceptable, at least among educated folk.

On the other hand, it means that the budget, more so than it is already, is funded by many petty taxes that are difficult to reduce and easy for some to impose on others. Structurally, taxes--except those that amount to user fees like road taxes or obvious corrections of externalities (Pigouvian taxes) like carbon taxes--should be few in number and of the sort that affect most or all people in a fairly direct manner.

I don't see either of "yes" or "no" on Proposition 302 having a clear advantage here and will not share how I plan to vote on this. Perhaps commenters have insight or perhaps Thane will clarify, but for now: you're on your own.

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