San Francisco Mayor Proposes Cigarette Tax for Street Cleaning

June 17, 2009

William F. Shughart III of the Independent Institute penned this in response to a proposal by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to impose a tax on cigarette butts:

Next month, Mayor Gavin Newsom plans to ask the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to impose an excise tax of 33 cents on every pack of cigarettes sold locally, justifying it as a way of forcing smokers to pay for cleaning The City’s streets of unsightly cigarette debris. According to the mayor, discarded smokes are responsible for nearly one-quarter ($10.7 million) of the $44 million San Francisco spends annually on litter removal.[…]

It is sheer fantasy to predict, as Newsom has done, that his plan will produce $11 million in additional annual revenue. Smokers will shift their cigarette purchases to sellers outside city limits. The mayor seems to be as oblivious to this as was former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who back in the day thought he could solve his city’s own budget problems by raising its excise tax on gasoline by 5 cents per gallon. He was forced to rescind the tax increase within a month’s time when revenue losses made it obvious that residents, along with D.C.-bound commuters, were filling up their tanks in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.[…]

But rhetoric aside, the proposal is all about protecting municipal jobs. Newsom admitted as much in saying that the extra $11 million he expects will be “enough to keep street sweepers employed.”

Clean city streets benefit everyone. It is unconscionable to shift a large share of the burden of paying for them to the consumers of one product, no matter how shunned the product may be.

More here.

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