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House votes to raise smoking age

This could happen.

The Texas House voted Tuesday to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, except for military personnel.

Senate Bill 21 received preliminary approval from the lower chamber more than one month after the Senate approved a slightly different version of the legislation. The bill now awaits final approval in the House, which is usually a formality. Then the Senate will vote to either appoint a conference committee for the two chambers to iron out differences in the bill or accept the House’s changes and send the legislation to Gov. Greg Abbott.

Rep. John Zerwas, a physician who sponsored the legislation, said the measure would protect young adults who are”highly susceptible” to an addiction to tobacco products.

“The idea behind this bill is essentially to move that risk away from those people that are most susceptible to it,” said Zerwas, a Republican from Richmond.

If the bill becomes law, Texas would become the 14th state to raise the legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 and the third to include military exemptions. The stricter age restriction would apply to tobacco products such as cigarettes, as well as e-cigarette products.

State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, added a floor amendment Tuesday that broadens the bill’s military exception to allow all members of the military over the age of 18 with a valid military ID to purchase tobacco. The bill previously only allowed members of the military on active duty with a valid ID.

See here for the background. Rep. Zerwas had filed his own bill on this topic, but in the end went with the Senate bill. That will have to go back to the Senate due to the House amendments, but my guess is that shouldn’t cause a problem. I thought that bill was fine as it was, but I can live with the broadened military exemption. That addresses the one substantive criticism of the original bill, so I hope this means it’ll be on to Greg Abbott’s desk for a signature.

We could have had an excise tax on e-cigarettes

But then Greg Abbott got involved.

At the urging of the nation’s biggest tobacco company, Gov. Greg Abbott launched a late-hour push to change Texas legislation creating a 10% state retail excise tax on e-cigarette and vapor smoking products.

That bill died in House action Thursday night due to a legislative maneuver, known as a point of order, offered by Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford. It has no realistic chance of revival because of legislative deadlines and the mandate that tax measures originate in the House, not the Senate.

Stickland said Friday his aides spotted the technical error and he pointed it out in the House out of concern about ladling taxes on e-cigarettes and vape products.

“A lot of people have used e-cigarettes to quit other bad habits,” Stickland said Friday. “It’s just a freedom issue for me. I think that taxes are theft.”

After the bill’s death, Dallas Democrat Nathan Johnson, the author of the Senate version of the bill, said in a text message: “I’m disappointed, to say the least. This bill would protect kids and save public costs. It had overwhelming support in the House.”

Critics said earlier that Abbott’s late move — targeting a bill touted as deterring youths from buying addictive e-cigs — would effectively ease taxation of products such as Juul pods that concentrate nicotine in not much liquid.

[…]

Abbott’s suggested changes would have scrapped a proposed first-in-the-nation retail tax predicted to generate about $20 million a year for public education. Instead, Texas would tax vape products at the wholesale level at five cents per milliliter of “consumable liquid solution.”

Four states — Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — tax vape products at five cents per milliliter, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, with New Jersey and West Virginia levying higher rates.

The Abbott-backed changes also would have put a $1 per ounce tax on every initial sale of heated tobacco products, which produce an inhalable aerosol primarily by heating, not burning, tobacco. The FDA authorized U.S. sales of the products, made by Philip Morris International, late last month. Corey Henry of Philip Morris International said in an email that the product will be commercialized by Altria in the U.S. through a licensing agreement.

Proceeds from the double-barreled tax were to help fund public schools.

Rob Crane, an Ohio State University physician who heads the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, said in an email that the resulting e-cig tax would have been so light, it would make “no difference” to children or adults considering purchases of such nicotine delivery products.

The first link in the story gives some background on the bill, as it was and what it was intended for. I confess, I wasn’t aware of any of this before I read the story, so I don’t have much to add beyond what you can read at the two links. Mostly, this is a reminder of why it’s hard to pass bills in the Lege. Time is against you, there are many veto points, and the closer you get to the end of the session the easier it is kill things. All you can do is note how far you got this time, and vow to try again in two years.

Texas tobacco litigation, 20 years later

Interesting look at something I don’t think about very much.

Twenty years ago, then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed a federal lawsuit accusing the tobacco industry of racketeering and fraud. He said the case would make Big Tobacco change how it did business, force the cigarette companies to make less dangerous products and stop the industry from marketing to teenagers.

The lawsuit, he contended, would require the tobacco companies to fork over billions and billions of dollars, which would be used to reimburse the state of Texas for smoking-related Medicaid costs and fund anti-smoking programs.

“This was the most important health-related litigation in history,” says former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore. “Cigarette smoking was the No. 1 cause of death in the entire world.” He adds, “There will never be a case this big or this important ever again.”

Two decades later, legal experts remain divided over whether to label the Texas litigation a success.

The Texas state treasury pocketed billions of dollars from the litigation, though only pennies on the dollars won in the case went to smoking-cessation efforts. Teen smoking plummeted, but cigarettes are just as addictive and dangerous. The tobacco companies are more profitable than ever. The trial lawyers representing Morales got filthy rich.

As for Morales, he married a former exotic dancer, lost his bid for governor and eventually went to federal prison following a scandal involving misused campaign funds.

“The litigation exposed the tobacco industry’s lies, dramatically reduced teen smoking and resulted in limits in cigarette advertising,” says Matt Myers, general counsel for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “But it is far short of meeting the objectives. We didn’t change the industry’s conduct at all. The product is no safer.”

[…]

In January 1998, the Texas lawsuit settled on the eve of trial for a record $15.3 billion. It’s the largest settlement of a single case in U.S. history.

“The tobacco companies were looking for peace and it was absolutely the right time for the state to push for a settlement,” says Houston trial lawyer Richard Mithoff.

Mithoff represented Harris County in demanding that the cigarette makers also make payments to counties in the state for their smoking-related health care costs.

Mithoff’s efforts, combined with a clever “most favored nation’s” clause that Potter and the state’s outside lawyers included in the Texas settlement agreement, led Big Tobacco to fork over an additional $2.3 billion in July 1998, which increased the overall Texas settlement to $17.6 billion.

The cigarette makers have paid Texas $10.2 billion so far and make annual payments of about $490 million to the state, according to court records.

To pay for the settlement and lawyers’ fees, tobacco companies increased the price of cigarettes by $1.40 per pack, which impacted cash-strapped teenagers the most. As a result, teen smoking plummeted. Surveys showed that nearly 36 percent of teens smoked in 1996, but only 12 percent of them do today.

Myers and others point out that Texas budgeted only $10.2 million, or 2 percent of the $490 million payment to be used for anti-smoking efforts in 2016. At the same time, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says that the tobacco companies will spend an estimated $630 million on marketing their products in Texas.

The public health group says the annual health care costs for treating sick smokers in Texas will be $8.8 billion this year.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. To me, the single most important thing about this is captured in that sentence about teen smoking rates dropping from 36% to 12% over the past 20 years. The overall impact on public health from that is enormous, well more than enough to outweigh any concerns about what this litigation did or didn’t do. We also now know that increasing the price of a pack of smokes is the single bets way to deter kids from buying them, which has informed our public policy since then; you may recall that a $1-a-pack increase on the cigarette tax was a part of the 2006 property tax reduction deal that resulted from the previous school finance lawsuit. Bottom line, this did a lot of good even if it never did (or, in the case of making “safer” cigarettes, never could have) done all that we were told it would do. I do wonder if we would have even attempted to do something like this if it had happened later in Texas’ political history. John Cornyn became AG in 1998, then Greg Abbott in 2002. Would either of them have pursued this litigation? Maybe Cornyn would have, at least at that time, but I can’t see Greg Abbott giving a damn about it. So count me as being glad that Texas Democrats were still able to win statewide in 1994. Who knows how many more people would be smoking today if Dan Morales hadn’t driven this litigation back then?

Why are some people more likely to smoke than others?

From the CDC:

American adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid smoke at rates more than double those for adults with private health insurance or Medicare, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) show that 27.9 percent of uninsured adults and 29.1 percent of Medicaid recipients currently smoke. By contrast, 12.9 percent of adults with private insurance and 12.5 percent of those on Medicare currently smoke.

“Smoking kills half a million Americans each year and costs more than $300 billion,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “This report shows real progress helping American smokers quit and that more progress is possible.”

The study reported that the prevalence of cigarette smoking among U.S. adults declined from 20.9 percent to 16.8 percent from 2005 to 2014, including a full percentage-point decline between 2013 and 2014 alone. The considerable drop in the overall adult smoking rate over time shows marked progress toward achieving the Healthy People 2020 goal of reducing the cigarette smoking rate to 12 percent or lower. Another major finding was that the average number of cigarettes smoked per day among daily smokers declined from 16.7 in 2005 to 13.8 in 2014 — driven by declines in the proportion of daily smokers who smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day.

At-risk populations

The study found other differences in smoking rates consistent with previous studies. In 2014, prevalence of cigarette smoking was higher among these groups:

  • Males (18.8 percent vs. 14.8 percent for females)
  • Adults ages 25-44 years (20.0 percent)
  • Multiracial (27.9 percent) or American Indian/Alaska Natives (29.2 percent)
  • People with a General Education Development certificate (43.0 percent)
  • People who live below the federal poverty level (26.3 percent)
  • People who live in the Midwest (20.7 percent)
  • People who have a disability/limitation (21.9 percent)
  • People who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual (23.9 percent)

“These findings underscore the importance of ensuring that proven strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco use reach the entire population, particularly vulnerable groups,”said Brian King, Ph.D., deputy director for research translation, CDC Office on Smoking and Health. Comprehensive smoke-free laws, higher prices for tobacco products, high-impact mass media campaigns, and barrier-free access to quitting help are all important. They work to reduce the enormous health and financial burden of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure among Americans.”

Changes in the U.S. health-care system continue to offer opportunities to improve the use of clinical preventive services among adults. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is increasing the number of Americans with health insurance and is expected to improve tobacco cessation coverage.

Currently, neither private insurers nor state Medicaid programs consistently provide comprehensive coverage of evidence-based cessation treatments. In 2015, although all 50 state Medicaid programs covered some tobacco cessation treatments for some Medicaid enrollees, only nine states covered individual and group counseling and all seven FDA-approved cessation medications for all Medicaid enrollees. Cessation coverage is used most when smokers and health-care providers know which cessation treatments are covered.

I find this fascinating. I’m old enough to remember when smoking was ubiquitous – I’ve experienced the smoking section of airplanes and restaurants – but nowadays not only do I hardly know any smokers, most of the people I know are militantly anti-smoking. The combination of government action and peer pressure has basically made my life, and the lives of most people I know, a non-smoking zone. Which, from my perspective, is awesome. But that yields a big question: Why is it that this effort has been so much more successful among some parts of society than others? What is it that we’ve been doing wrong, or doing inadequately? There’s a huge societal cost to smoking, so figuring this out would be a big deal. I hope the next study focuses on that question.

Vaping in jail

Not sure how I feel about this.

As a way to allow some inmates to get their nicotine fix and sheriffs to shore up tight budgets, county jails across the country have begun selling electronic cigarettes. Though the trend has largely bypassed Texas, jail officials say that could change as sheriffs begin to warm up to the smokeless technology.

While traditional cigarettes are banned from most jails, vendors of e-cigarettes, which vaporize a liquid solution for inhalation, see a big market in Texas. The 245 jails regulated by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards have a combined capacity of about 95,000.

Shannon Herklotz, the commission’s assistant director, said he knew of only two county jails in Texas that allowed electronic cigarettes. But more sheriffs, primarily in rural counties with smaller facilities, have expressed a cautious interest in selling them, asking questions about the technology, he said.

“It’s not that it’s not allowed. It’s up to each individual sheriff,” said Herklotz, who supports banning e-cigarettes to prevent issues with contraband at jails. With county jails facing budget shortfalls, e-cigarette vendors are pushing their products as a way for sheriffs to supplement revenue and help inmates suffering from withdrawal.

[…]

One vendor, Precision Vapor, recently began selling e-cigarettes to the Titus County Jail in Northeast Texas.

“It was at the request of inmates that we started selling them,” said Michael Garcia, a lieutenant at the jail, which sells the item from its commissary. “The inmates report that they feel more at ease and not as nervous,” he said. “They don’t have the agitation of going from two packs a day to zero.”

The jail, which has an average daily population of about 110 inmates, buys each e-cigarette for $3 and sells about 80 a week at $6 apiece, Garcia said. That profit helps pay for inmate uniforms and other supplies, which “eases the burden of the taxpayers.”

Brian McGiverin, a prisoner rights lawyer at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said that most jails strictly banned tobacco but that sheriffs were likely to view e-cigarettes more favorably because they are less of a fire hazard than traditional cigarettes.

“It doesn’t seem like a terrible idea, setting aside the idea of whether it’s a smart idea to smoke in the first place,” he said. “The people are buying it, so that means it’s something that they want.”

Out of curiosity, I sent an email to Alan Bernstein, the Director of Public Affairs for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, to inquire about their policies on e-cigarettes. Here’s what he sent me:

The Harris County Jail, the state’s largest, does not allow inmate use of e-cigarettes because of the negative health effects of nicotine, the potential for these items to be traded among inmates as “currency” and the potential for misuse of the lithium battery and vaporizing function of the items. We are not aware of any vendors approaching our staff to discuss adding e-cigs to our list of inmate commissary products.

As noted before, my main concern is that the health effects of e-cigarettes are not well understood at this time. If they turn out to be helpful in getting people to quit tobacco and they don’t have any harmful effects of their own, then I can see the merit in this, though Bernstein’s point about the potential for misuse is well taken. The bit about e-cigarette sales being helpful to counties with tight budgets and “easing the burden” on taxpayers, however, makes me queasy in the same way that expanded gambling does. Being dependent on a potentially volatile income stream that is in turn highly dependent on the habits – in many cases, addictions – of a small number of mostly vulnerable people but which is invisible to most everyone else strikes me as bad public policy, one that comes with a built-in set of skewed incentives. Maybe I’m wrong – maybe e-cigarettes don’t have much in common with the tobacco kind – but until we know that I’m very skeptical of this.

On e-cigarettes

From the Rivard Report:

After a 2011 ordinance banned indoor smoking in public places around San Antonio, some smokers were left trying to find options to leave tobacco behind. In the ensuing three years, electronic cigarettes and vaporizers have seen exponential growth around the country, with several retail outlets popping up in and around San Antonio.

Monster Vape, co-founded by Christopher Zieg, opened its doors in 2012, and in two years expanded into two more San Antonio stores and a Corpus Christi franchise.

Zieg, a former U.S. Military medic, said he knew the dangers of smoking, but had trouble quitting until he attended a concert and saw the singer vaping onstage. His personal success with quitting smoking after switching to vaping five years ago inspired him to set up shop as he finished his military service in San Antonio.

“Being a medic and seeing what e-cigs have done for me, I wanted to pass that on to other people,” Zieg said, citing a number of benefits, including a lack of tobacco smells on clothing and vehicles, better energy levels, and perhaps most importantly the fewer number of chemicals found in the fluids used in vaporizers.

The health effects of e-cigarettes are currently unknown, and some early reports have mixed news so far. The new smokes are not yet regulated by the FDA, but I strongly suspect they will come under close scrutiny. I also suspect that local governments, which have been very active in banning tobacco use in public spaces, will not wait for a final word from the FDA to act on their own.

While the federal government works out new rules for electronic users, several city governments have started the push to include electronics in existing anti-smoking ordinances. In December, an ordinance passed by New York City Council added vaporizers to the city’s smoking ordinance, treating them as tobacco products and prohibiting their use indoors. Similar ordinances have passed in Chicago, Los Angeles, and King County, Washington, which includes several cities, most notably Seattle.

Cities in Texas have followed suit, including Georgetown, Soccoro, and Frisco, which – like New York – amended previous ordinances, and San Marcos, which made a last-minute inclusion of vaporizers to its first smoking ordinance during its final reading, drawing criticism from shop owners.

“I just don’t think they did their research before making that decision,” said Sharon Teal, owner of Ahh Vapors, LLC in San Marcos. She cited studies released by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association, showing e-cigarettes to be far less harmful than cigarettes.

In cities where the jury is still out on the inclusion of electronics in smoking ordinances, several businesses have introduced their own bans shutting out vaporizers. To Zieg, this will cause vaporizer users to find other businesses where they can vape.

“If you have two coffee shops and one says ‘no’ and one says ‘yes,’ the vapers are going to go where they’re allowed to do what they love,” Zieg says.

That may be true, but it’s as likely that the non-vapers, of whom there are many more, will choose to stay away. Be that as it may, I don’t know how much this is on the radar of Texas cities yet. I admit I don’t get out much, but I think I’ve maybe seen one or two people vaping ever, whereas I still see plenty of the old-fashioned kind of smokers. On the one hand, it would probably be easy enough for most cities to simply amend their existing no-smoking ordinances to include e-cigs – at this time, I doubt there would be that much organized opposition, certainly not as much as there was when the ordinances were first passed. On the other hand, I doubt there’s much of an organized push to get those ordinances updated, either, so for now I’d say most city councils have bigger fish to fry. What do you think about this? Would you like to see Houston or your city act now on e-cigs, or maybe consider the matter later? Would you go even farther than that? Leave a comment and let us know.

Soda tax

There are three things you can say about a soda tax for Texas:

1. It would raise some revenue.

2. It would make people drink less soda, which would likely have some modest health benefit.

3. It ain’t gonna happen.

Republican lawmakers have vowed to close the budget hole without a new tax. But that hasn’t stopped Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, from proposing a penny per ounce tax on soft drinks.

At a Senate Finance hearing [Monday] morning, he suggested his measure could bring in billions of dollars to the state, while curbing consumption of sugary drinks linked to childhood obesity and diabetes.

“I have become convinced we cannot cut our way out of the financial hole we find ourselves in without devastating the services millions of Texans rely upon,” he said.

But while public health experts testified that the measure would dramatically curb the purchase of soft drinks, and limit the calories and caffeine young people consume, representatives from the beverage industry questioned the data, and said there’s no simple solution to the obesity epidemic.

“Common sense tells us, and science proves, that taxes don’t necessarily make people healthier,” said Bill McManus, director of government affairs for the American Beverage Association. “Making smart, educated decisions about diet and exercise do that.”

Lucio’s bill is SB1004. Among other things, legislation that raise revenues must originate in the House, so that should tell you what its odds are. But let’s be clear about a few things. This would raise revenue, which the state desperately needs. It would also reduce the consumption of soda, as any price increase would, and in doing so would reduce the amount of sugar and high fructose corn syrup that people consume. Given the evidence that the consumption of these items is bad for you, reducing their consumption would be a boon for better health. It’s by no means a cure-all – only beverage industry lobbyists say that it claims to be – but it would help a little, and the only way we’re going to see a marked improvement in Americans’ health is by doing a lot of things that each help a little. In other words, it’s much like tobacco taxes. That’s how I see it, anyway. Not that it really matters since it ain’t gonna happen, but there you have it.

Raising cigarette taxes

Is any kind of tax increase possible for this legislative session?

The House appropriations bill, scheduled for debate this weekend, would cut out the $10 million-a-year anti-smoking campaign, which remains a legacy of the state’s 1998 tobacco settlement.

To save the anti-smoking effort, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, is pushing a bill to increase the state cigarette excise tax by $1.05 per pack.

“It doesn’t take a whiz to figure out we’re spending a lot because of a product that contributes to all those expenses,” she said. “We need the money. We can’t have a cuts-only approach, and it’s not a new tax. It’s not something that affects the masses.”

[…]

If passed, the state’s excise tax would rise from $1.41 to $2.46 a pack. The tax increase would generate about $375 million a year in extra revenue for Texas, according to Legislative Budget Board estimates. Alvarado proposes to use $25 million a year for anti-smoking programs and the remainder for property tax cuts.

Raising the state’s excise tax from $1.41 to $2.46 a pack would still leave at least eight states with higher cigarette taxes. It cost Texans $1.6 billion a year to cover Medicaid costs for smoking-related illnesses, according to 2004 data compiled by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

To be clear about something, recall that the 2006 property tax cut wasn’t just financed by the business margins tax. There was also a one dollar increase in the excise tax on cigarettes, which contributed a smaller but still significant amount to the balance sheet. Where the article says that funds from Rep. Alvarado’s proposed increase would go towards “property tax cuts” after paying for the anti-smoking programs, that’s what it means. It would be a small step towards closing the gap between the cost of that property tax cut and the revenues being raised to pay for it.

[House Ways and Means Committee Chair Harvey] Hilderbran said Alvarado does not have enough support in his committee to recommend a cigarette tax increase “at this time.”

“But things change, so if she get the votes for it, I’ll be happy to consider bringing it up (for committee action)” Hilderbran said.

That’s better than a flat out “No”, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic about its chances. But to answer the question I started with, if any kind of tax increase is possible this session, this would be it.

Voters say they don’t want spending cuts

According to one poll, anyway.

Voters gave Republicans an overwhelming victory in November, leaving the GOP with nearly two-thirds of the seats in the Legislature and every statewide office. Many have interpreted the election as a clear call for spending cuts, and in fact, a Texas newspapers poll conducted in the weeks before the election showed that voters prefer spending cuts to higher taxes.

But the new poll shows voters want more than half of the state budget protected.

Some 70 percent of respondents said lawmakers should not cut school spending, and 61 percent said they want no spending cuts on health care programs for children and low- to moderate-income families.

“Everybody would like to make cuts, but it’s hard to actually make them where the most spending is,” pollster Mickey Blum said.

She said Democrats, Republicans and independents all prefer not to cut education and health care. Also, a majority of poll respondents who voted in the November election oppose cuts to those programs.

[…]

Voters are more willing to cut spending on colleges and universities, however. Pollsters found that 41 percent of respondents said lawmakers should cut higher education spending a little, while 12 percent said they should cut it a lot. Still, nearly four in 10 voters said they did not want any spending cuts in higher education.

The poll also shows majority support for expanded gambling, a preference for raising cigarette taxes as opposed to other forms of increasing revenue, significant opposition to raising the class size limits and (somewhat oddly, in my opinion) to allowing concealed handguns on college campuses. A few thoughts:

– I don’t see crosstabs – this was a telephone poll of 819 Texans, including 716 registered voters, conducted from December 28 to January 5 by Blum & Weprin Associates – so as always, take with a requisite amount of salt.

– There is always more support for cutting budgets in general than there is for cutting specific programs. This is why many Republicans avoid being specific about making cuts, no matter how ridiculous it makes them appear. Similarly, there is always more support for ways of raising revenue that don’t affect most people, like cigarette taxes, than for broad-based measures like sales and property taxes.

– Having said all that, this is why I stressed in the immediate aftermath of the election that it is vital for Democratic legislators to avoid supporting Republican budget-cutting efforts, at least without getting substantial concessions. We have to be able to make them own it 100%. They got us into this mess, after all.

– I still believe that expanded gambling is doomed. But I’m sure the gambling industry will use polls like this to put pressure on the Lege, especially as some of them begin to grasp the sheer magnitude of the problem. They could prove me wrong.

– Needless to say, Rick Perry didn’t get the memo.

Interestingly, there’s some evidence that at least a few Republicans are looking at this mess with something other than glee.

The underlying fear, from some in both parties, is that the budget-cutting zealousness could go too far.

“You’ll be gutting, literally gutting, some core services that government does for everybody,” warned 16-year Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, a key member of the House leadership. “You’ve got to be careful about crippling every program to the point of no recovery.”

[…]

Solomons, a lieutenant of House Speaker Joe Straus, said ordinary Texans will notice if the deficit is as huge as expected – and only cuts are used to zap it.

“You just won’t build any more roads. And you might not be able to maintain roads for a while. … Instead of taking three days to get your license, it might take 30,” he said.

Solomons said he’ll support many spending trims but left open the possibility that he might reluctantly back tax or fee increases. The state has too many needs, especially in education, he said. Business people tell him they want an educated workforce.

“So are you going to fund community colleges?” he said. “Or are we going to cripple everything?”

It’ll be interesting to see if Solomons gets criticized for his heretical stance. The Chron quotes a couple of former legislators, who no longer have to worry about such things.

The second-biggest Republican freshman class was the 27 who faced a major budget shortfall of $10 billion in 2003. Several members of that class said the new lawmakers will bring fresh ideas but warned that they should watch out for unintended consequences as they try to cut the budget.

“A lot of us thought we can clean this by doing better about spending and we can cut out waste, but we didn’t know at the time the significance of the cuts and the fallout,” said former Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels.

Casteel noted the Legislature her freshman year deregulated college tuition to balance the budget without actually cutting higher education spending. She said the unintended consequence was that a higher education became harder to obtain for the children of Texas and was a new financial burden on the state’s middle class.

Casteel and another 2003 freshman, former Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Houston, said the Legislature that year also shifted a financial burden to counties by cutting the caseloads handled by the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Instead of having a doctor through health insurance, low-income children were treated in expensive emergency rooms at the cost to county taxpayers.

“There are consequences on the back end,” Van Arsdale said.

Good to know there’s some maturity out there. Of course, both Casteel and Van Arsdale later got ousted in Republican primaries, Casteel for opposing schools vouchers and Van Arsdale for not showing sufficient fealty to Dan Patrick. Maturity isn’t always valued.

Big Tobacco wants higher taxes on Little Tobacco

I’m not sure why we’re even talking about this since the Republicans aren’t interested in anything other than slashing and burning, but for the record:

Texas is only one of two states that do not impose a fee on off-brand cigarettes sold by companies that didn’t participate in the historic tobacco settlement a decade ago.

Also, Texas levies only a 2-cent tax on a pack of “little cigars” that look like cigarettes. The state tax on cigarettes is $1.41 a pack. Both carry 20 units.

“It’s a pretty big difference and there’s really no public policy benefit in providing little cigars with a tax advantage like that given the similarities between the products,” said Bill Phelps, spokesman for Altria, whose companies include Philip Morris, the country’s largest cigarette manufacturer. “By equalizing the taxes on those products, the state can realize more revenue, and we think that’s important, especially given the budget challenges.”

Texas faces a budget shortfall exceeding $20 billion, according to recent estimates.

The federal government last year raised the federal excise tax on little cigars to $1.01 — the same rate applied to cigarettes. The federal excise tax on little cigars had been 3.7 cents per pack.

But small tobacco company officials react strongly to suggestions they should be paying more, and they question big tobacco’s interest in solving the state’s budget problems.

“The big tobacco companies are trying to shift the market share to their favor by placing a tax on smaller companies that were not involved in the (late 1990s) settlement,” said Justin Phillips, a spokesman for Global Trading, a small tobacco wholesaler based in Enid, Okla.

[…]

Texas could gain an extra $38 million per year by applying the same excise tax on filtered or little cigars as it does on cigarettes, Phelps said.

Big tobacco companies have “no interest in solving budget shortfall problems. They have an interest in gaining market share,” said Bob Rowland, a spokesman for Tantus Tobacco, a small company based in Russell Springs, Ky.

Cigars historically have not been taxed at the same rate as cigarettes because they are not inhaled and are considered a “reduced harm product,” Rowland said.

On the one hand, I agree that Big Tobacco isn’t doing this out of any sense of civic responsibility, but instead is pushing the idea as a way to remove a competitive advantage that the little guys currently enjoy. On the other hand, I don’t have any problems with increasing the excise tax on the “little cigars” as suggested – just because it’s in Big Tobacco’s interests doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. On the third hand…why are we talking about this? I just don’t see the Republicans being flexible about anything. Knock yourselves out lobbying them, but my advice would be to keep your expectations very low.