President Obama's budget request includes a proposed steep hike in tobacco taxesto help pay for expanded early childhood education programs. As a demographic group to tax, smokers make an easy target. And it's tough to argue that more families shouldn't have access to affordable, high-quality early education options for their children. But the president's proposal to raise the tobacco tax by 94 cents per pack remains a long shot.
I asked Rick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies at theAmerican Enterprise Institute, to lay odds on the tobacco tax hike surviving. "I'd put it at about 5 percent," Hess said. "If it's a question of whether the president will get some kind of smaller tobacco tax boost and pre-K spending increase, I'd put the odds of that - as part of some kind of big bipartisan budget deal - at maybe 15 or 20 percent."
Using tobacco tax revenues to provide programs and services for needy kids isn't a new idea. The federal cigarette tax was raised sharply in 2009 - after a substantial fight by the tobacco industry - and went toward expanded health care coverage for children. Additionally, 14 states currently earmark cigarette tax revenues for education-related spending, and another 11 states add the tobacco-tax money to their general funds, which could include education among other expenditures. (For more on this topic check out the American Lung Association's comprehensive online database of State Legislated Actions on Tobacco Issues.)