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“Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.”     Milton Friedman

November 19, 2006

Oklahoma: Two Steps Forward, One (Potential) Step Back

by Brad Warbiany

UPDATE: My reading comprehension took a breather today. Replace Oklahoma with Arkansas for most of this post. I guess I had Oklahoma on the brain after the tattoo story. Suffice to say that I did have a point in that all states like to use taxation or outright bans of unpopular behavior or activities based on the tyranny of the majority. Thanks Kevin for catching my mistake.

Recently, Oklahoma finally became the last state in the US to legalize tattooing. As I said then, it was a promising sign, but I didn’t think that they were going to understand the wider lesson of it being wrong to ban it in the first place:

I’d like to say that this change in the law is Oklahoma’s realization that outlawing behavior that they simply find unappealing, which does not infringe on anyone’s rights, is bad policy. But it’s not. This is them retreating from one restriction of freedom that no longer has a lot of public support. I’m sure they won’t be shy about keeping those restrictions that exist, or enacting new restrictions, as long as the majority supports it. After all, that’s what government is for, right?

Well, they may be showing their hand. This, of course, isn’t about outlawing something, it’s about using the power of taxation to discourage behavior, which I also find deplorable. It seems that because beer is such a nasty, sinful, awful substance (if extraordinarily tasty and refreshing!), Oklahoma decided in 2001 to add 3% sales tax on its sale, to pay “for the children”. While this was intended as a temporary tax to offset budget shortfalls, the Governor wants to extend it when government coffers are full:

Lawmakers studying the Public School Fund budget proposal Thursday scratched their heads when they saw that Gov. Mike Huckabee’s recommendation includes keeping the additional sales tax on beer.

The tax is to end June 30, 2007, but the executive recommendation has it continuing at least through fiscal 2009.

Sen. Terry Smith, D-Hot Springs, asked if that was a mistake.

“The governor is supporting continuing the beer tax,” answered Mike Stormes, the state budget director.

The tax brings in $ 6. 9 million a year for preschool programs. It was a part of the $2 billion-plus Public School Fund budget submitted at the Arkansas Legislative Council-Joint Budget Committee budget hearing.

Yep, in order to pay for preschool programs, we should probably tax the people who need those programs the most. You know, the ones most likely to consume large quantities of beer. Namely young, single, childless men. That’s fair!

In the defense of Oklahoma, though, this attempt by Huckabee appears doomed to defeat:

Sen. Percy Malone, DArkadelphia, described the beer tax as a “temporary tax” and said legislators should “honor our word” and eliminate it.

“There’s no way in the world the members of the Revenue and Tax Committee are going to extend this tax… under no circumstance,” said Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle.

Sen. Paul Miller, DMelbourne, noted that it really didn’t matter what Huckabee recommended because the forthcoming recommendations of the governor-elect — Mike Beebe — will be what the Legislature considers. Huckabee leaves office Jan. 9.

Good for them. Let’s hope they’re able to resist the desire to tax the infidels sinners.

In other news, Georgia may be rescinding their ban on Sunday sales of alcohol, which I find to be quite a shock:

“Customers are requesting it and retailers are here for customer service,” said Kathy Kuzava, who heads the Georgia food industry association.

Her organization represents major retailers as well as with smaller independent stores. The Food Industry Association along with the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores plans to lobby the legislature to lift the ban on Sunday beer and wine sales, though not liquor sales.

“The number one sale day in supermarkets is Saturday and the second one is Sunday. It’s frustrating because we can’t service our customers seven days a week,” said Kuzava.

The plan is expected to come under fierce opposition, with well-reasoned arguments like this:

“I consider it the Lord’s day. It’s His day, not our day or the state’s day or the United States’ day. I don’t think we should be drinking on that day, and I don’t think he wants other people drinking on that day either,” said convenience store shopper Bob York.

Really, how can you argue with that?

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3 Comments

  1. I remember when Georgia was a dry state.
    Atlanta wasn’t.

    Comment by VRB — November 19, 2006 @ 10:42 am
  2. Brad, slight problem.

    Mike Huckabee is governor of Arkansas, not Oklahoma. He’s also probably running for president.

    Comment by Kevin — November 19, 2006 @ 11:41 am
  3. Thanks for catching that, Kevin. I don’t know where my brain was. I’ve updated the post to reflect the mistake.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — November 19, 2006 @ 12:06 pm

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