It looks like cigarette smokers in California will be spared an added $1 per pack excise tax.
Officially, the vote on Proposition 29 to more than double the Golden State's cigarette tax is too close to call.
The latest tally shows the anti-tax side eking out a 50.9 percent victory. That's a 63,000 vote lead out of around 4 million votes cast.
But some ballots reportedly are yet to be counted. And whatever the final result, you can bet on a call for a recount.
About face because…: So why did the tax increase go from almost two-thirds voter approval early in the campaign to apparent failure?
Veteran California election watchers say the vote is yet another example of the state's north-south divide on issues.
Others see a state version of a national trend in political campaigns, specifically the side with the most money wins.
When the proposal to add $1 to California's current 87 cent cigarette excise tax was proposed, nearly 70 percent of voters said they were for the increase. That's not surprising, since most Californians don't smoke.
Then tobacco companies pumped around $47 million into advertising against the tax hike.
Are we really that susceptible to ads? Apparently so, especially when they characterize a proposal as a government boondoggle.
New revenue accountability: But before you shake your head at yet another simplistic framing of public governing bodies, from cities to states to Uncle Sam, as evil money wasting operations, wait.
The anti-tobacco-tax folks turned that easy-to-grasp big bad government argument, which has been so successful nationwide as a lot of people are feeling economically strapped and emotionally drained by their daily demands, on its head.
In California, they attacked the tax hike because most of the added tobacco tax money wouldn't go to the state government.
That's right. The boondoggle here, according to Prop 29 opponents, was that the bulk of the increased tax revenue wouldn't help the state out of its continuing financial straits.
Divvying up the dollars: Most of the new tax money would have been used to fund cancer research. Smoking reduction programs and tobacco law enforcement would have gotten the rest.
Now everybody wants science to come up with better treatments of and possible cures for cancer.
Few oppose programs to help smokers kick the nicotine habit and prevent kids from lighting up in the first place.
And no one is against helping any cop do his or her job more effectively.
But California is in the throes of budget meltdown. Gov. Jerry Brown announced last month that his state now faces a $16 billion deficit.
So when anti-tax forces argued that the money would go to the wrong places, it resonated.
Yes, folks turned against the tax hike because the money wouldn't go to the state of California to help ease its budget crisis.
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