Oklahoma is contemplating a 'sin tax' on cigarettes, but no one's calling it that

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has close to 25,000 followers on Twitter, but she only follows 284 people. I'm one of the people she follows; I made a screenshot of this fact for after she realizes her mistake.

I assume my home state's governor followed me so she wouldn't miss any of my enlightening posts on GetReligion.

So I thought I'd write a post about Fallin — or more specifically, one of her proposals.

In her annual address to the state Legislature on Monday, the Republican chief executive proposed raising Oklahoma's cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack, as reported by The Oklahoman:

For her part, Fallin said “bold action” is needed given a budget crisis caused by a drop in oil prices. Lawmakers have about $900 million less to spend in next year’s budget compared to the current year.
The proposed cigarette tax increase would generate $181.6 million, while targeting a practice that is making many Oklahomans sick, Fallin said. Another $200 million would be realized through sales tax changes.
“If we don’t change the way we apportion and collect revenues, most state agencies will be faced with a 13.5 percent appropriation cut for the upcoming 2017 fiscal year — or a total cut of 16.5 percent since July 1 ” she said in her yearly State of the State address.

In a follow-up report on today's front page, Oklahoman Capitol Bureau chief Rick M. Green (a former Associated Press colleague of mine) noted that Oklahoma voters could decide the issue:

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin would like to boost the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50, but it may be up to voters to actually get that accomplished.
She disclosed her proposed tax hike in a speech Monday, immediately drawing praise from those concerned about the medical dangers of smoking.
“One of the things we know from science is that one of the most effective ways to decrease tobacco and cigarette consumption is to raise the price point of the product ” state Health Commissioner Terry Cline said Tuesday.
A vote on the issue would take place in the November general election under a bill that has been introduced in the Legislature, he said.
Cline said the increase would apply both to tribal and nontribal cigarettes.

So what's the religion angle? Why am I writing about this proposal at GetReligion? Glad you asked.

What Fallin has proposed is a "sin tax." Except no one seems to be calling it that — at least not in the news coverage I've seen.

What is a "sin tax?"

Here's how I described it in 2004, when I was writing about religion and politics for the AP in Texas:

Sin is a politician's friend.
Politicians know that wrapping a tax around a societal vice — be it smoking, gambling or even topless dancers — is usually an easier sale than an across-the-board tax on everybody's home, income or groceries.
From that standpoint, Gov. Rick Perry's focus on taxing "unhealthy behaviors" as he seeks to fix Texas' school financing system is a brilliant move, experts say.
"Americans always talk about taxes as if they were a kind of sin," said James Morone, a Brown University political scientist. "So for a politician, the way to inoculate yourself is, you find a bigger sinner and you turn it on them."

Are we talking about a legitimate holy ghost in news coverage of Fallin's proposal? Maybe not.

But I do think the "sin tax" angle would be an interesting one for journalists to explore.

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