In 2007, the Iowa legislature passed a $1 a pack cigarette tax. A tax of this sort provides an excellent example of the difference between a limited government of a free people (which we are supposed to have), and the unlimited government of an unfree people that our Iowa state government has become.
The Revolutionary War was fought over a 2 cent stamp tax on printed matter that was implemented as a temporary measure to defray the costs of the French and Indian War. Citizens at the time called the tax “tyranny”. Once upon a time, an unfair tax was sufficient for most Americans to want a revolution.
What do you think such citizens would have thought of a $1 tax on cigarettes (not temporary) and not needed to fund some emergency expense that the state has? What would they think of a tax imposed on people for the sole purpose of making something that some citizens enjoy more expensive for them to enjoy? They would have called that double tyranny, I would expect.
Taxes in a limited government are imposed soley for the purpose of funding those specific activities that a government is legally mandated to do. Taking one penny more than that is theft. Don’t take my word for it; let’s ask some of our former presidents:
“Collecting more taxes than absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.” – President Calvin Coolidge
“When more of the people’s sustenance is exacted through the form of taxation than is necessary to meet the just obligations of government and expenses of its economical administration, such exaction becomes ruthless extortion and a violation of the fundamental principles of a free government.” – President Grover Cleveland
However, the cigarette tax goes further than simply imposing a new, unnecessary tax on the people of Iowa. Such a tax fundamentally violates the notion of a free people. The government of a free people is not supposed to use the taxing power to get its citizens to behave in a particular way. As long as they aren’t violating the rights of others, the government of a free people is supposed to allow its citizens to live however they want. There is no greater abuse of the taxing power than to use it to punish people who are not behaving in a manner that meets with the government’s approval. It’s a profound mark of shame on our state that this tax was passed, and a profound mark of shame on us as citizens that we did not stand up and shout “Tyranny!” as free people are supposed to do when a tax is imposed for any reason other than to fund the government’s enumerated functions.