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August 12, 2008

Maryland, Land of Bedwetting Socialists

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley

-Robert Burns

Yesterday morning the Editorial Staff arose from the Marital Bed nearly speechless with delight to find that once more our small demesne had not been absorbed by the People's Republic of Maryland and summarily handed off to our southron neighbors for no apparent reason. Hope, that cheeky thing, began singing its wordless little song from its perch upon my soul. Was America finally on the road to a better future - one more in line with the positive spirit of change that gripped this country in 1968? Or had my fellow Marylanders finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel and realized it was an oncoming train?

Politicians in Annapolis are scratching their heads wondering what happened to all those chain smokers who were supposed to help balance Maryland's budget. Last year the legislature doubled the cigarette tax to $2 a pack to pay for expanded health-care coverage. Eight months later, cigarette sales have plunged 25% and the state is in fiscal distress again.

A few pols are pretending to be happy that 30 million fewer cigarette packs have been bought in the state so far this year. As House Majority Leader Kumar Barve put it, fewer people smoking is "a good thing." Yes, except that Maryland may be losing retail sales more than smokers. Residents of Maryland's Washington suburbs can shop in nearby Virginia, where the tax is only 30 cents a pack, and save at least $15 per carton.

cigarette.jpgThe Editorial Staff don't read the local section of the paper all that often. Consequently we were shocked recently when, standing in the local Food Lion several weeks ago, we happened to take a gander at the cigarette display. Back when we were just a young Editorial Staff (a time when giant Brontosaurs still roamed the earth in thundering herds) we recall ducking into the local Dunkin' Donuts after school for a lemon donut and a 55 cent pack of Kools. This act, as every thinking person on earth knew at that time, conferred an instantly detectable aura of Kool-ness upon the bearer. We won't tell you how much a pack of cigarettes costs in Maryland today. Let's just say the price is cringe inducing.

For those folks at home who may be feeling some sympathetic outrage on the behalf of beleaguered Maryland retailers, fear not! The People's Republic of Maryland has a plan to help them out. They won't outlaw smoking. They'll just outlaw smokers who shop out of state, on the theory that while it's perfectly legal to drive to Virginia to get a better deal on a new sofa or an automobile, attempting to save money on a carton of cigarettes is a hideous act exceeded only in its utter depravity by the ravishment of Baptist nuns:

The Maryland pols are so afraid this is true that they've made it a crime for residents to carry two packs of cigarettes that weren't purchased in the state. In other words, the state says it's legal to smoke, so long as you use cigarettes that the government can tax and thus become a financial partner in your bad habit. But if you dare to buy smokes across state lines, you can be fined.

Maryland is only the latest state to prove the folly of trying to finance government with a tax on a shrinking pool of smokers. In New York City and State, tobacco taxes have been raised so many times that the retail cost can exceed $9 a pack -- about double the national average. Few budget-savvy smokers in the Big Apple pay that tax. Patrick Fleenor, an expert on tobacco taxes at the Tax Foundation, estimates that there is "now a 75% gap between cigarette sales in the city and cigarette consumption." In other words, three out of four cigarettes are bought elsewhere or are contraband. Out-of-state purchases, tax-free Internet sales and a cigarette black market are booming.

Meanwhile, retailers in the Old Dominion (and the Virginia legislature, which is reaping a windfall - not to mention laughing their collective tuckii off - at the idiocy of their northern neighbors) send their heartfelt thanks for the unlooked for economic stimulus package.

Nice work, gentlemen. Got any more bright ideas?

Posted by Cassandra at August 12, 2008 08:18 AM

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You had to know this was going to happen after banning smoking in public places, putting a confiscatory sales tax on the vice...a Catch-22.

Government never met a tax they didn't like, but now that people have either quit smoking or are getting their tobacco legally but less expensively, where is the tax?

You know Virginia will either raise the tax for out of state buyers (requiring carding and endless paperwork to be filled out by the store owners) after Maryland starts demanding their share of the state tax with a cut going to Virginia or retailers will just quit carrying it to avoid the bureaucratic nightmare.

Posted by: Cricket at August 12, 2008 08:40 AM

NJ hiked the tax on cigarettes and discovered two things.

1. State workers in Trenton who smoked nipped across the bridges into PA and purchased there -- and tax revenue from cigarettes dropped into the cellar.

2. They not only started buying cigs there, they decided to eat lunch there, too -- and tax revenue from the Trenton and suburban eateries plummeted.

Alarmed at the drop in revenue, NJ took immediate action by increasing the tax on everything else...

Posted by: BillT at August 12, 2008 09:07 AM

Oh, yeah -- NJ increased tolls on the Turnpike a while back, which diverted about 25% of the normal truck traffic to local road networks, resulting in increased wear-and-tear on the suburban infrastructure.

Which increased the frequency of local road repair, which shot the Transportation Department's budget right in the butt. So, in order to better fund the Transportation Department -- they increased tolls on the Turnpike...

Posted by: BillT at August 12, 2008 09:16 AM

Truly, the NJ legislature has a dizzying intellect.

Posted by: Dread Cricket Roberts at August 12, 2008 10:30 AM

Trust me, folks, Virginia is just as broke as the People's Republic of Maryland, only its costs us less to be broke because we're a right to work state.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 12, 2008 11:22 AM

My home state never ceases to amaze and confuse me. I'd take up drinking, but it's so durned difficult to procure the wherewithal here.

Posted by: O Maryland, My Maryland at August 12, 2008 11:35 AM

I'd take up drinking, but it's so durned difficult to procure the wherewithal here.

I'd post my recipe for Mekong Jungle Juice, but the FDA, ATF, IRS, NASA, NTSB and DelMonteā„¢ would send me to the Gitmo Timeout Bench for the duration...

Posted by: BillT at August 12, 2008 12:05 PM

Isn't that plan of Maryland's unconstitutional? I believe the Commerce Clause reserves to Congress the right to regluate commerce "among the several states." This is nothing but a backdoor attempt to regulate the purchase of cigarettes in Virginia, by a state government; I can't see any reason that wouldn't violate Article I.

Posted by: Grim at August 12, 2008 12:15 PM

"Truly, the NJ legislature has a dizzying intellect."
One that is apparently shared by most public savants once anointed to their fiefdoms.

Just in my little corner of the woods the following is happening:

The price of fuel goes up, government operating expenses follow suit. Local government tacks a fuel surcharge on to speeding tickets resulting in fewer speeders. A good thing you might think. Just watch what happens when there is a further drop in the black versus the red on local gub'ment balance sheets.

Extended drought results in calls from State legislature to conserve water. Meanwhile Army Corp of Engineers are busy accidentally releasing billion of gallons of water from reservoirs, which they do every year like clockwork. Along with hydrating endangered mussels at the gulf of Meheeco as required by the ESA and legislative mandate. So while watching the grasses and trees that help cleanse and cool the air we breathe wither and die, we hear that the local water authority is struggling with a budgetary crisis. Turns out that everyone has been diligent in their conservation efforts and has obeyed the call to conserve. The result, fees and taxes on water in and water out will be increased by the water authority to address their budget crisis.

Children are falling behind in their rankings on standardized testing, if not on their actual academic prowess, with respect to students not only in other parts of the world, but in other states too. Much thought is not given to contributing factors, problems being hard to fix when the cause is not identified. And so the call to change the traditional school year goes up and the local school board decides to hew to a schedule more closely resembling year round attendance. A variation on the tactic of the beatings will continue until morale improves...

Now Gorbal worming or just the median temp in August in this southern state is riaht neah 88 degrees. This scheduling master stroke results in kids attending school in August requiring schools to run their AC's at the hottest point in the year further burdening the electrical supply grid. Not to mention fueling the fleet of school buses, sans air conditioning, packed full of sweaty, attentive young'uns. Did I mention beatings or how freakin' hot it can be in mid August down heah? Meanwhile, enter stage right; The local school board is aghast given the energy and fuel bills.

Additionally, state and local widgets are shocked that monies for transportation are not keeping pace with the need for new roads and improvements while fuel use and the accompanying tax revenue has declined with the rise in prices. Go figure. And from across the land, what began as a bureaucratic murmur can now be heard in the dead of night, taxes must be raised! SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) ballot referendums must be passed! Deus vult!

*now back to my shiny new pneumatic framing nailer... Deus vult!*

Posted by: bt_what-me-worry_hun at August 12, 2008 12:25 PM

Isn't that plan of Maryland's unconstitutional?

Is that an illegal copy of the Constitution we spy in your pocket, sir?

Just *where* did you procure that copy, buddy? Can you show you paid Md. state taxes on it?


Posted by: O Maryland, My Maryland at August 12, 2008 12:32 PM

You wouldn't happen to live in Georgia, would you?
Sonny Perdue DARED to pray for rain. We have gotten it, too.

Once water rationing starts, it is difficult to quit. Lake Shasta hasn't recovered from the drought of the mid 70s...the state is barely breaking even.

We gave up our swimming pool for the duration. We do three loads of laundry three times a week, and make sure that we scrupulously give away the clothes we don't need to cut down on washing.

Bathing is a bit of a challenge, but we have it worked out so no one is offended!


Posted by: Cricket at August 12, 2008 12:37 PM

Oh, it get's better here in Tennessee

If you were to go to Arkansas, where the tax on a pack of cigarettes is 3 cents cheaper, buy 25 cartons and bring them back to Tennessee, thereby denying the state of Tennessee a whopping $7.50 in taxes, they'll make you a felon and send you to jail for at least 1 year and up to 6.

Isn't it just great to know that $7.50 is all that stands between you and your right to vote and keep and bear arms?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 12, 2008 01:32 PM

Someone in government asked if taxing something really changes behavior. Cluelessness abounds.

I think it was New Jersey that decided some years back to put a tax on 'luxury yachts'. The obvious thing happened: the yacht builders moved out of New Jersey.

Clearly, Maryland's next step would be to license and register cigarettes. They could even take a page from Utah: state-run cigarette stores.

Posted by: ZZMike at August 12, 2008 01:37 PM

They could even take a page from Utah: state-run cigarette stores.

Knowing the bureaucratic mindset, they'd have to be staffed by non-smoking employees and have big Sturgeon Gen'rul posters prominently displayed.

Posted by: BillT at August 12, 2008 01:55 PM

"You wouldn't happen to live in Georgia, would you?"
In a manner of speaking, yes... =8^}

Posted by: bt_what-me-worry_hun at August 12, 2008 01:57 PM

...staffed by non-smoking employees holding large cans of Lysol spray and have big Sturgeon Gen'rul posters prominently displayed.

Fixed by order of the Left honorable Senator from Maryland, Bahbah Ann 'Babs' Mikulski. That'll be $279.63 cash, money order or Visa/Master Card.

Posted by: bt_what-me-worry_hun at August 12, 2008 02:03 PM

Utah has always acknowledged that the sin tax on tobacco and alcohol was what funded the schools.
Don't get me started on the whole sillyness of BYOB.
Kansas likker laws may be tougher than Utah's, but they aren't as confusing.

Anyhoo, the schools in Utah were hollering for more money, and because there were so few smokers in the state (gee, why is that I wonder), the property taxes were raised.

My cousin taught school in Nevada. NEVADA. As if gambling revenue wasn't enough, the voters were asked to subsidize the schools with...yes. You guessed it. A state lottery.

Posted by: Cricket at August 12, 2008 02:08 PM

Sonny Perdue DARED to pray for rain. We have gotten it, too.
Irony of the week: that rain caused us to have to close our boat ramp due to lack of water.

See, the county had planned to build an extension to the boat ramp during the dry season, so that now it would still be in the water. However, because it rained, the place where the extension was to be built was under water at the time we were planning to build it.

Now that the Corps of Engineers has "accidentally" lowered the lake level substantially again, the boat ramp is back out of the water, and the money that was to build the extension was spent elsewhere, so...

Posted by: Grim at August 12, 2008 02:49 PM

...the voters were asked to subsidize the schools with...yes. You guessed it. A state lottery.

New Jersey sold that bill of goods as "supporting the public school system." After a spate of property tax increases to bail the public school system out of it's state-mandated rathole of a curriculum, the lottery suddenly "supports senior citizens."

It may be time to re-institute the time-honored practice of applying tar-and-feathers to political miscreants...

Posted by: BillT at August 12, 2008 03:27 PM

"Now that the Corps of Engineers has "accidentally" lowered the lake level substantially again, the boat ramp is back out of the water, and the money that was to build the extension was spent elsewhere, so..."

He-he-he! Welcome to my world Grim! Fun ain't it? LMAO! So, do you know how big the accidental discharge was? SIXTEEN FEET! Oh my, that's one hellova' accident there boy! It was a gradual accident that has been happening over a two month span. But no one noticed eh? I want a guvmint job! Hey! if you can't laugh you'll go insane.

BTW, the Corps pulled the permits on all night tourneys further helping to kill the local lake economy, cut revenue for the Corps to pay for ramp extensions, and piss off hundreds if not thousands of conservationists. Why you might ax? 'Cause the lake levels are so low the Corps is afraid someone may get injured running at night. Now, think about that for a minute. These anglers basically live on that lake. They know every square inch and fathom. When there is a boat accident or overdue boat party who do the local authorities call to handle S&R at night? Uh-huh, these same fishermen that the Corps is afraid will hurt themselves. Yet a "private" citizen can still boat at night all they want. You know them don't you? The ones that only come to the lake on occasion and plow over channel buoys and run aground everywhere? Even in the daytime? I always did love the Keystone Cops.

The stupidity that is anything guvmint is almost mind-boggling! Geez!

Posted by: JHD at August 12, 2008 03:50 PM

Oh thank God Cass admits to a bad habit (at least in the past). I have debated admitting that I have a *gasp* filthy disgusting habit of polluting my lungs as well. I have NO clue why it should matter other than the Hostess' disapproval would be distressing.

In any event, I'd LOVE to figure out how Maryland figures it will enforce the "no more than one pack of imported cigs". Random searches? Also, how are they going to determine who is a resident? Or is it required by law to show ID when stopped on the street (driving is different of course). What about Maryland residents who work in DC or Virginia? Are they going to be forbidden from bringing smokes back from their workplace?

Plus, as Grim mentioned, this smacks of a Interstate Commerce violation to me. They made their bed (by encouraging smokers to purchase elsewhere), they can lie in it.

It reminds me of my plan of what I'd have told the tobacco companies to do during the multi-billion dollar state lawsuit. Simply say, "You say our product is dangerous? Fine, we'll stop selling in your states. But we're going to phase this in over time, starting with New York. We will no longer sell tobacco products within the State of New York." Watch they scream and squirm as they figure out how to make up the revenue they're now losing to their border states. As well as deal with an angry 25-30% of their population.

Posted by: MikeD at August 12, 2008 04:22 PM

I've just about quit going over to the lake, actually, because I hate to look at it. I remember it as a boy when it was all full. Now, that park where we've closed the boat ramp? The swimming rope with the orange buoys is lying on dry ground, not even mud. It used to mark the place that was as far out as you could safely swim. Now it lies a good fifty yards from the water.

Posted by: Grim at August 12, 2008 04:25 PM

"I've just about quit going over to the lake, actually, because I hate to look at it."
I can't bear to see the lake in its current condition either.

MIL & FIL own some acreage on the north end of Lake Sidney L... 30 years ago, Walkin' Boss and I used to camp on that property and one of my first dates with her was sailing her around the lake in the moonlight on a 28' sloop. Now I'd have to take her mud boggin'.

Posted by: bt_who-left-the-spigot-on_hun at August 12, 2008 04:34 PM

Get the EPA on 'em for destroying wetlands. Casually forget to mention that *they* caused the mess to start with.

A couple of years ago, a farmer built a shallow pond a couple of miles up the road from my house. Planted cattails so the redwing blackbirds evicted by a nearby housing development would have a nesting place -- he asked NJ-EPA if he could register it as a wildlife sanctuary. NJ-EPA came out, granted his request, then cited him for interfering with a "seasonal wetland" (a drainage ditch he'd run a culvert through) and ordered him to drain *his* pond and re-open the drainage ditch.

Next day, he took a backhoe and filled in the ditch.

NJ-EPA showed up a week later to insure he'd complied with the diktat and was told NJ-DOT had filled in the ditch because it was a safety hazard.

NJ-EPA shrugged and left, never to return.

The redwing blackbirds are doing fine, thenkew.

Posted by: BillT at August 12, 2008 05:51 PM

I will be having something to say on that subject. Trust me.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 12, 2008 05:54 PM

I never doubted you'd have something to say. :)

Posted by: Grim at August 12, 2008 06:00 PM

I didn't say it would be something *smart* :p

I just said it would be something.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 12, 2008 06:01 PM

"I didn't say it would be something *smart* :p"

I'm glad you clarified that.

Posted by: DL Sly at August 12, 2008 06:15 PM

Hey: you asked us to trust you, so I just wanted you to know how completely you enjoy my faith. I never doubt you'll have something to say. :)

Posted by: Grim at August 12, 2008 06:24 PM

Trust me.

Okay. But only because you're under thirty.

Posted by: BillT at August 12, 2008 06:26 PM

Really? Married and kids and all and still under 30?


Posted by: Gregory at August 13, 2008 05:15 AM

No Gregory :p

I'm well over thirty. But I was married and had had two children already by the time I was 23, so I had a head start.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 13, 2008 06:49 AM

It's all right. I've known 20-something women who always had something to say also; but never one so often worth hearing.

Posted by: Grim at August 13, 2008 08:49 AM

In any event, I'd LOVE to figure out how Maryland figures it will enforce the "no more than one pack of imported cigs".

no... RFID fingerprinting.

your purchase will eventually be tied to the rfid tags in each product. readers at sludge plants, waste disposal, street cleaners, etc. will read the numbers of the rfid tags and compare them to their origin.

they find more than x amount of product tied to one purchaser, voila, you have been caught.

how long before RFID tag readers are used in locations as random samplers, recording whats in pockets and other (unsheilded) carriers?

our currency is or alredy has them, so its going to be possible to track your bills from the time you get them from the atm, to what purchases you make with them.

with obama bringing a totalitarian state, technology is presumed to do what was not possible before.

internal passports will insure that we eat healthy, and that we are taken care of as pets used for the collective.

Posted by: artfldgr at August 13, 2008 03:11 PM

Nah, doesn't take anything that complicated. You just do what TN is doing. Stick a plain clothes police officer in the parking lot of the gas station across the state line and look for cigarette purchasers with TN tags. Radio it ahead to your partner in a marked car and nab the person as soon as they cross the state line.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2008 06:07 PM

Here in Sen. Obama's (D-Daley) there is a form on the very back page of your Illinois Income Tax Form booklet called a "Use Tax" form. If you have over the previous year bought anything out of state, you are required to fill out the form and pay the difference between the sales tax in the location you bought it and the Illinois sales tax in the zip code of your residence. So if you drove over the line from Illinois to Indiana to buy that new car or set of kitchen appliances, you can end up owing the State of Illinois hundreds of dollars.

This is enforced. In the case of that new car, when you register it with the Secretary of State he's going to check his records to see if a title for a vehicle with that VIN has been recorded as transferred or sold by an in-state owner (either a dealership or a private party). If not, expect to get a letter from the Secretary of State telling you to pony up or face severe consequences.

They also trace out-of-state on-line cigarette sales as well (I'm not sure how) and have been quite busy sending out letters on that as well.

Posted by: RonF at August 14, 2008 10:23 AM