Porn Tax Creates Dilemma for Kansas Lawmakers

November 30, 2005

The infamous proposed Kansas “porn tax” made headlines again recently (see previous post here). Apparently it’s created a moral dilemma for anti-porn conservative lawmakers who’ve also signed a “no new taxes” pledge. From the Associated Press:

A proposal to impose a special tax on sexually oriented businesses is creating a dilemma for some legislators.

They’re socially conservative and would like to combat pornography and discourage the opening of new shops that sell X-rated videos and magazines and other products, such as sex toys.

But some also have signed a pledge not to raise taxes.

That has a few talking about tying the proposed porn tax to proposals to cut taxes elsewhere.

Among them is Sen. Kay O’Connor, R-Olathe, who told the Lawrence Journal-World she would like to support a tax on sexually oriented businesses because, “We shouldn’t make life too terribly easy for them.”

But, she added, “A pure tax increase, I would have to vote no.” (Full story here.)

Unfortunately what’s missing from the debate over the Kansas porn tax is any discussion of general principles that might help decide whether this tax is good or not.

Is this tax economically neutral? Does it aim to produce revenues for necessary government programs, or is it just an attempt to carrot-and-stick markets into producing outcomes lawmakers prefer? If this use of tax policy is justified in this case, in what cases is it not justified?

It’s hard to see in principle how a selective excise tax on porn shops is fundamentally different from the much-ridiculed Swedish “man tax.” Both are unmoored to any sound economic principle of public finance.


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