Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tell Frankfort not to raise taxes

The halls of the State Capitol are buzzing with talk of tax increases to address the growing public pension disaster, despite large Republican majorities full of no-tax-increase pledge signers including -- most notably -- Gov. Matt Bevin. There is a better way.

After years of spending abuse in Frankfort, we are in big trouble. Out-of-control healthcare bureaucracy and mismanagement of the pension system have brought us to a moment of truth: something has to give. But it can't be tax increases, which only incentivize bad spending behavior. Frankfort needs no encouragement on that front.

We must have more economic activity. We need more -- and healthier -- businesses and more job growth. And the solution is staring us right in the face waiting to see if we have the courage to name it. We need to eliminate state barriers to the growth, marketing, distribution and consumption of marijuana.

The biggest immediate impact of marijuana legalization would probably be seen in the nascent hemp industry, which now must contend with high costs of government busybodies preoccupied with determining again and again that new growing Kentucky hemp is not marijuana. Legalizing marijuana and ending that distraction would pull the restraints off hemp and allow it to create new markets for Kentucky agriculture all over the world and quickly start bringing in money our revenuers are screaming for. On top of that, marijuana's resiliency as a prolific cash crop despite significant legal encumbrances is well documented. Imagine how effective it could be at balancing state budgets and reducing dependency if we just turned it loose.

I'm not unsympathetic to those who oppose marijuana on moral or religious grounds. My church's doctrine forbids marijuana use and I wouldn't use it now anyway for reasons that have nothing to do with my faith. But that begs the question of whether or not government rightly has a role in forbidding or allowing the use by individuals of a substance which grows out of the ground. No one has been able to show me how it does. If you believe marijuana use would send you to hell or otherwise damage you, then don't use it. But neither the state nor federal Constitution empowers an individual or even the largest majority of individuals to mandate what another law-abiding individual may consume on his own if he is not bothering anyone else. Not only is official squeamishness about marijuana legalization more expensive than we can afford, it fails on the basis of personal liberty. It must go.

Frankfort gets lots of things wrong. The apparent supposition currently in play that Kentuckians will swallow tax increases when politicians start talking about the Commonwealth growing close to bankruptcy is just as wrong as legislators fattening their own pensions in years past and neglecting previously on many occasions to take pension under-funding seriously. If you agree that cannabis-related economic growth is a better approach, you should let your state representatives know about it right away because otherwise they will continue further down the road to hammering us with taxes and thinking they have fixed the problem.

The bottom line is that state government's money problems have become a multi-billion dollar emergency. That's usually when politicians panic and their hasty actions make things worse. We need more revenue, less spending or a combination of the two. Marijuana legalization is pretty hard to oppose as a fiscal move. If you remain unconvinced about its moral acceptability, though, then present a better idea. But, please, make it fast. Time is running out, the natives appear restless in Frankfort and we approach a dangerous crossroad that can get far worse.