Letter: GOP plan win for budget, health

To the editor:

Indiana is in dire need of road funding to cover our aging infrastructure. A proposal from Gov. Mike Pence asks for a $1 billion highway funding boost over the next four years. He would fund road work by drawing from the state’s cash reserves and borrowing the rest.

House Republicans responded with a two-prong approach. First, index the gasoline tax for inflation and gradually shift all of the 7 percent sales tax on gasoline to the motor vehicle highway fund. Six percent of the gasoline tax currently goes to the general fund which covers Medicaid costs. Second, the GOP proposes raising the cigarette tax by $1, which would go to the Medicaid program and free up that money in the general fund.

Pence gave the proposal a chilly response and is standing his ground against any tax increases.

But what most Hoosiers do not know is that they are paying a tremendous hidden tax, one that subsidizes smokers and penalizes the 78 percent who do not smoke. According to tobaccofreekids.org, every Indiana household pays $920 in state and federal tax for smoking-related government expenditures.

Hoosiers pay $2.93 billion each year for health care costs related to smoking, with $589.8 million of that covered by the Medicaid program. These costs do not include those caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, fires caused by smoking, smokeless tobacco use or cigar and pipe smoking.

A cigarette tax increase would offset the smoking-related Medicaid costs in the state budget. It also translates to a healthier Indiana, because it can be the “last straw” for smokers and give incentive to the 70 percent of smokers who want to break the addiction. Every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices reduces youth smoking by about seven percent and total cigarette consumption by about four percent.

The GOP proposal is a win-win for Indiana: Score for the budget and score for health.

Nancy Voris

Tobacco Free Johnson County