Obama and Snooki

Published July 1, 2010

Today the first of President Barack Obama’s 21 tax hikes to pay for his massively expensive health care law takes effect, levying a 10 percent tax on tanning salons. With this tax, the president once again breaks his promise not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $250,000 per year. In addition, this time he’s targeting largely women-owned small businesses.

If you don’t think taxes matter, look no further than Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, a star on the hit MTV reality show Jersey Shore. The notably bronzed celebrity made headlines by saying, “I don’t go tanning anymore, because Obama put a 10 percent tax on tanning.” She added, “I feel like he did that intentionally for us. McCain would never put a 10 percent tax on tanning.” Sen. John McCain responded on Twitter, stating, “u r right, I would never tax your tanning bed! Pres Obama’s tax/spend policy is quite The Situation but I do rec wearing sunscreen!”

The tax wasn’t even in the health care bill until it became a ninth-inning replacement for the equally unfair “botax,” which would have placed a 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgeries. Just as subsidies and targeted tax credits are handed out to favored businesses, targeted tax hikes take aim at narrowly defined targets. Both are political instruments subject to intense lobbying, not sound fiscal policy.

The tanning tax will have its greatest effect on women, who are not only more likely to use tanning beds but also own 67 percent of the nation’s indoor tanning businesses, according to The International Smart Tan Network. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the tax will raise $2.7 billion over 10 years. That is just a drop in the ocean compared with the expected cost of the health care bill, now a staggering $1.053 trillion over 10 years. The negligible revenue the tanning tax will bring in makes the fundamental unfairness of this and other “sin” taxes even more obvious.

Although a wide array of legal products and services can be harmful if used in excess, that doesn’t justify government wresting more money from taxpayers under the guise of promoting public health. The tanning tax was created strictly to bring in more revenue for the health care bill, and it won’t be of much use in that regard.

Just as alcohol and tobacco taxes haven’t satisfied the appetites of big-government advocates who want ever-more revenue, neither will new en vogue taxes on plastic bags, soda, and tanning beds. All these taxes really do is hand the government more control over individuals’ decisions and their money.

When government uses tax policy to discriminate against legal products, it unjustly manipulates a market already rich with an abundance of healthy and less healthy choices. Ultimately, higher taxes on selected “sin” items, such as tanning salons, are just another example of politicians taking away more of our personal and financial liberties.

John Nothdurft ([email protected]) is the budget and tax legislative specialist for the Heartland Institute.

This op-ed was originally publshed at The American Spectator (www.spectator.org).