What's next? Failure-to-floss tax?
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Bill Barth
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            Here on the state line between Wisconsin and Illinois thereís celebration in the air this week, among those who believe the full power of government should be brought to bear against individuals whose behaviors fall outside the bounds of officially approved proprieties.
            Punishment, in the way of steep taxes, has arrived for unwelcome behavior.
            In Wisconsin, smokers will be assessed another 75 cents per pack in cigarette taxes. That makes Wisconsin the fifth-highest taxing state for tobacco products. The new revenue is estimated at $335 million, with all tobacco taxes for Wisconsin amounting to approximately $1.5 billion over the two-year budget cycle.
             In Illinois, taxes went up this week for candy, soda pop and liquor. Thatís supposed to raise some $150 million a year in new state revenue.
            The message is fairly clear. The politicians frown on people who smoke, people who drink, and people who are chubby.
             I know. Thatís why collections like these are called ďsinĒ taxes.
            Likewise, I am aware that smoking and boozing and gobbling up fatty calories from candy and pop are unhealthy habits that can contribute to illnesses or premature death and, theoretically, cost society more for health care costs.
            But Iím also aware that government is just as hooked on smoking and drinking as the users themselves. Does government really want smokers to stop lighting up, or beer drinkers to switch to tap water?
            If that happened, government budgets would hemorrhage red ink and the tax collector would knock on every door looking for other new sources of money. Itís not an exaggeration to say government needs smokers to smoke, drinkers to drink, and chubsters to slurp soda.
            OK, folks, letís stipulate the obvious: People should not smoke. Or drink to excess. Or consume sweet candies and syrupy drinks that just pack on the pounds.
            They also should not eat too many cheeseburgers. Or barbecued ribs. Stay away from those Friday fish frys ó thatís a Wisconsin thing, by the way, for all the readers uninitiated in the strange ways of the frozen Northland. Frosted cakes and doughnuts and French fries are bad, too. And look out for those preservatives; only whole, organic alternatives should be consumed. Of course, donít forget to exercise. By the way, get rid of that clunker and drive to the gym in a hybrid vehicle.
            And if you fail to pay attention and correct that unsavory behavior, well ... donít be surprised if the friendly tax man eventually comes calling.
For that matter, if folks do pay attention and tax revenues from cigarettes or liquor or gasoline subsequently decline, expect the tax man to come calling anyway. After all, government must get its money from somewhere. Maybe the disgusting guy sucking on a cigarette actually has been doing you a favor.
            Do you suppose this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind, a society in which bossy-sassypants politicians determine which behaviors are or are not officially approved? And do you suppose the Founders wanted the coercive taxing authority used to enforce governmentís version of appropriate personal habits?
            I promise ó I am not carrying water for the tobacco companies or any other commercial interest. Healthy is best. Iím a reformed ex-smoker, and we can be the most militant when it comes to avoiding smoky places.
             But personal choice ó some might even say liberty ó counts for something in this country, too.
             Or, at least, it used to, in the days when Americans really believed there should be limits on how much government can intrude into everyday life.
            Call it the right to privacy. Call it the right to be left alone.
             Oppressive behavioral taxes. Where does it end? A failure-to-floss tax, anyone?