Dave Richards for March 20th…………….
--Happy Spring! In recognition of the optimism this season brings, we will reverse our usual order of business this week and begin with the rant………
--We all know the Rhode Island General Assembly, short of money and even more short of common sense, has been for years indulging in a favorite guilty pleasure of punishing people who smoke tobacco with new laws and “sin taxes” rising higher and faster than a rocket at Cape Canaveral. It’s gotten to the point now that one needs an additional part time job just to fund their smoking habit.
If you think I’m being unkind to the General Assembly, or unduly kind to smokers, read this and judge for yourself.
Hardly a year goes by that state legislators don’t increase the size and cost of state government. It’s wrong, and they know it, but it is what they do. To pay for this expansion, they identify expected sources of income. More than once they’ve increased the tax on cigarettes to pay for something new they wanted to pay for because all the cessation assistance funds from the tobacco companies were diverted to pay for expansions to the government they instituted still more years before that.
They start this procedure by figuring out how many packs of cigarettes they expect will be sold in the state next year. They do the math and raise the tax to produce the income they need for their new project. They’ve done this so many times, now, that the tax is many multiples more than the actual price of the product. The only thing I can think of which is more crazy than all of this is that now there is a proposal in the General Assembly to raise the legal age to buy and use tobacco products. The intent of this bill is obviously to discourage smoking.
Well, even an idiot can understand that, rightly or wrongly, the reality is that if you raise the age and decrease the number of people who can legally buy tobacco products, the tax revenue you can expect from those sales will be lower. The result will be none of the projections made heretofore will be accurate and projects previously funded by the tax will go under-funded. This will contribute to a deficit which is already, to put it kindly, ominous.
I think it is a shame that taxes on tobacco products and profits from casino gambling are two of the major sources of revenue we use to run our state government. I can’t do anything about it, but I think it’s a shame. However, I can say with certainty that if you’re going to earmark proceeds from the taxes to fund projects in the budget and then you pass a law to reduce the expected funding……..well, that’s just crazy in my book. And I think it’s a dangerous kind of crazy.
--The preceding paragraphs notwithstanding, we will end our deliberations this week with a compliment to that same somewhat dysfunctional body. Time for a tip of the hat for at least attempting to rid the General Laws of our state of useless and outdated statutes. I’ve said for many years that there are just too many laws and we should remove one old law for every one we want to add. They’re not going quite that far this time, they want to remove only three, but I say it is a step in the right direction.
I felt sure there were a few laws on the books we would not miss if they were gone, but even I was surprised to hear that there was a law making it illegal to test the speed of a horse on Rhode Island highways. I don’t know why that was ever such a problem that it required a law to prevent it, but I’m thinking that law is a good candidate for extinction.
Others up for official removal are the law making it a crime to be a ‘second’ in a duel, and the law making it a crime to enter a building with the intent to steal poultry.
When you look at the matter closely you’ll see that ‘gentlemanly duels’ were replaced generations ago by ‘drive-by shootings’. Therefore, being a ‘second’ or an assistant to a participant in a duel went out of style a long time ago, I suppose. We won’t miss that law, will we?
I do expect that it will still be illegal to steal poultry in our state, it just won’t be a separate crime when you enter a building intending to steal poultry. Even the chickens aren’t likely to miss that law. Well done, I say!
Sure, you may say that these three laws represent the “low-hanging fruit” of antiquated legislation, but I think even this triflingly little bit of common sense displayed in a place where common sense is in such short supply should be applauded. Maybe now that they’ve tried it once and it didn’t hurt much……..they might do it again? I hope so.
--That’s what I think. What do you think? Comments to: email@example.com or postal mail to Dave Richards, WOON Radio, 985 Park Avenue, Woonsocket, RI 02895-6332.
Thanks for reading.