Light up for the kids!

It’s generally accepted that priorities can get a little wonky in the game of politics, but what’s happening right now with the Healthy Kids Plan is genuinely ridiculous, and yet another example of what happens when lawmakers choose ideals over practicality.

It’s generally accepted that priorities can get a little wonky in the game of politics, but what’s happening right now with the Healthy Kids Plan is genuinely ridiculous, and yet another example of what happens when lawmakers choose ideals over practicality.

If you haven’t been following the latest brou-ha-ha over in Salem, Gov. Kulongoski has been trying to push a hefty increase in tobacco taxes to the tune of 84.5 cents a pack, with the intent of putting it toward giving health-care coverage to all of Oregon’s uninsured children. There’d also be the benefit, Democrats say, that an increase in taxes would cause smoking rates to go down.

The House voted on it in late April and fell four votes short of the three-fifths majority it needed to raise taxes. With the exception of Vicki Berger, R-Salem, the vote was split along party lines, with Democrats for and Republicans against.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans said they loved the idea of universal health care for children, but cited an aversion to raising taxes and an unwillingness to burden smokers, many of whom are poor and would be hit hard by the increase.

And y’know, it makes sense. Smokers are undeniably treated like second-class citizens enough anyways, and unfairly so. Republicans also made the point that the source of revenue would not be stable if smoking rates would go down as intended. And that also makes…um…sense…

OK, I can’t be moderate anymore. The Republicans are just batshit insane on this one.

First of all, even if the revenue were to fall because of a decrease in smoking rates, isn’t such a decrease an excellent thing all in itself? Fewer smokers, after all, means a healthier population, which means less health care the state must provide when these poor smokers fall ill.

Second of all, according to Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s website, Oregon relies on personal income taxes for 90 percent of the state’s general fund budget, which is surely a less stagnant source of revenue than a cigarette tax. That lovable dude Ben Westlund, D-Bend, a staunch supporter of the Healthy Kids Plan, told The Oregonian in June, “…a dedicated cigarette tax is the rock of Gibraltar compared to what we fund the rest of this budget with.”

Third of all, where else would Republicans like to get the money from? When the proposal initially failed, Mary Nolan, D-Portland, lead budget writer in the House, asked Republicans where they would raise funds to come up with the $215 million required to fund the program over the next four years, and they came up with $3 million (though, granted, this was over a month ago).

Republicans cite over and over again their dogmatic belief that the solution to the problem is not to raise taxes. And playing devil’s advocate again, I can understand how that’s a reasonable line of thinking, but not when the health care of 116,000 uninsured children is on the line.

Do the benefits of the Healthy Kids Plan really need to be spelled out? Are Republicans not aware of the strife tens of thousands of families go through because they can’t provide care for their sick children? Are they not aware of the costs that society pays when the sicknesses of those uninsured grow out of control?

Would they like to pay for emergency room bills instead of checkups? Would they like to instead mitigate the fact that healthier kids are more likely to do well in school, and thus become more productive members of society? Do we really need to bring out the phrase, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”?

It’s a matter of priorities, priorities that are being screwed by politicization and partisanship. The health of our children should be more important than clinging to anti-tax dogma, and dogma is what this reasoning has become when we listen to principles over practicality.

Ideals should be flexible to priorities, not the other way around.

In good news, however, the proposal is currently far from dead, and there are a few different forms of the bill kicking around the Legislature right now. The only one that can succeed without Republican support is the current Senate proposal that would ask voters this fall to put a higher cigarette tax into the state constitution. This would only require a simple majority as opposed to a three-fifths majority (which is required for measures that include a tax increase) and thus the Democrat-controlled Legislature could pass it on to voters.

In bad news, Republicans are also still being wacky and ridiculously nonsensical. Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, voted against it saying that he didn’t disagree that insuring children was important. “What we do disagree on is the need for additional taxes,” he told The Oregonian in May.

Cool idea, senator! I’m excited to hear just how you’re going to come up with over $200 million without raising taxes. Really. I’m stoked. Can’t wait to hear all about your brilliant plan. But in the meantime, let’s turn our attention to House Minority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby, who believes it would be “dead wrong” to bring this issue to the ballot. “It’s our job to make the decisions,” he told The Oregonian in May. “I think we do a disservice here by referring it to voters.”

Right you are, senator! Referring an issue to voters? Asking them to decide where tax money should go? Preposterous! What will those crazy Democrats think of next? I do hope they apologize in short order for thinking they could bring an issue of such importance to the lowly masses. Lord knows they don’t know what’s good for them.

Despite the confusing right-wing antics, this is not a petty issue, or even a moderately important one. This is about the health of our children and our future and it is gravely serious. We must do whatever it takes to make this plan work, and if an 84.5-cent increase in taxes is what we need to get the ball rolling, then God bless the fact that that’s all we need for now. Let’s pledge our support to get this passed and moving.

And if legislators continue to waffle and bring up mealy-mouthed idealistic objections without bringing strong alternatives to the table, we should pledge our support to get them booted out of office. And replace them with those whose ideals are a little more flexible.