One of my many problems with government is the ratchet effect — that Brezhnevian notion that when government has done something, it will never be undone; the idea that government can only grow, rather than adapt and discard elements that have served their original purpose. At this point in my life, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to learn that we’re still funding a Freedmen’s Bureau somewhere.
But such hyperbole aside, let’s consider a state-level activity. The city of Johnstown, PA, has been victimized by a couple of great floods, one famous, one less so. After the 1936 flood, the state of Pennsylvania passed a tax on alcohol to rebuild Johnstown. By 1942, the tax had raised enough cash to rebuild the city. That is to say, it had served its purpose and could be repealed, right?
What do you think? The tax is still in place, and has even been expanded over the years, and it now does two things: It raises the cost of alcohol in Pennsylvania by 18%, and it gives Pennsylvania a wad of cash to play with:
[I]t hasn’t been done away with. This once temporary tax now generates $200 million a year for the general revenue fund, despite efforts by a few legislators […] to repeal it.
As we’ve established, this is a tax that has outlasted its original purpose by about 70 years. Meanwhile, the state government has been spending the money the obsolescent tax raised. Maybe it spent the money wisely; maybe it spent the money foolishly. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. What matters is that people in Pennsylvania have spent the last seven decades forking over their cash under what amounts to false pretenses and a sort of anesthesia.
Forget binge drinking — maybe the real problem is binge taxation, and far too often, on far too many levels, the party never stops.