It is a fact universally acknowledged that Bluestem Prairie isn’t the biggest fan of Representative Carly Melin (DFL, Hibbing), but when we heard the unedited version of the exchange in the House Tax Committee, we asked The Uptake to pull a video clip.
Mike McIntee generously edited the piece.
Here’s McIntee’s description:
In Minnesota’s legislature, Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R) and Rep. Carly Melin (DFL) disagree about a bill that would prevent cigarette taxes from automatically going up every year. Drazkowski says it would impact poor people who live in trailer courts and smoke. Melin says her parents lived in a trailer court and her dad smoked, but the reason her family was able to move to a home was her parents got an education. She says cheap cigarettes don’t help the poor move up the economic ladder.
ranscript:Drazkowski:The experience has shown there’s a high propensity of people within trailer courts to be smokers and I go around and talk to those folks there. And not all of them are poor. But the bulk of them are poor. And to see the oppression this tax is placing on them, you hear from those folks, is very very compelling. At least it was for me.Melin:That argument that we’re sort of protecting poor people by keeping cigarette prices low has always just sort of bothered me. I would agree that tobacco tax is regressive. It does impact low income individuals more than middle or upper class individuals. So it is a regressive tax. But I think the argument that we’re sort of protecting poor people by keeping their cigarette taxes low is just a little disingenuous. And ,you know, my parents actually lived in a trailer park and my dad was a smoker at that time. He too started while he was in the military getting those free cigarettes.You know when my brother was a toddler and my mom was pregnant with me. They were able to move out of the trailer park and purchase a home and that wasn’t because my dad was smoking cheap cigarettes, it’s because they were educated and provided other economic opportunities in order to sort of climb the ladder.And fortunately he was able to quit smoking when I was in grade school, so I’m lucky enough to have him still around. But, you know, I would just say that argument that we’re sort of protecting poor people by keeping their smokes cheap is a little disingenuous to those who are working hard to climb the ladder and don’t have the opportunities presented to them.So that was the only comment I wanted to make and I know we’ve heard that argument in the past. Thank you Mr. Chair.Drazkowski:There’s people who are in the trailer parks who are not poor. But I’ll tell you, the bulk of them are. And when you talk to them about the impact of this tax on their life — cause I did— it was very compelling to me that indeed the oppression of this tax is at the front of their minds. So Representative Melin, I beg to differ but thank you for the discussion.Chair:Oh you were doing so good Chair Drazkowski. Now you said Representative Melin. Representative Melin. (laughter) You just about made it.MelinWell, Mr. Chair, maybe it just goes to philosophical differences. I’m not disagreeing with Representative Drazkowski that this is a regressive tax and it impacts lower income people you know more than others. But there are so many other variables when it comes to people being able to climb the economic ladder and to improve their quality of life and economic standing that you know I think limiting it to, you know, we’re protecting people by keeping their cigarettes cheap is just a little bit disingenuous as to the economic issues surrounding low income Minnesotans. And that’s my only comment.Thank you.
The records of both legislators underscore Melin’s point. While she has supported pro-worker legislation like the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), Draz has tended to support such things as right-to-work legislation, mandatory drug tests for those seeking public assistance, while voting against WESA and raising the minimum wage.
But cheap cigarettes for the poor? He’ll go to the mattresses on that one.