Sutherland Newsletter – February 25, 2010


“When decision makers, philanthropists, and conservative activists all focus on money first, last, and always, our shared public life (and our freedom) suffer.”


So say Bryce J. Christensen, Ph.D., and William C. Duncan, J.D.  In their most recent essay, The Failure of Philanthropic Greed and the Case for Investing in Family Policy, the scholars argue that strong families deliver huge economic benefits over the long run.  Ironically, however, these benefits are in peril so long as conservative activists and donors persist in a myopic fixation on business-related public policies.


This paper asserts that some conservatives, those who care only about next-quarterly dividends, may never un derstand why they should support family causes.  There is an imbalance in philanthropic support for conservative programs stressing fiscal issues rather than those focused on strengthening and preserving robust family life.


The solution, according to Christensen and Duncan, is an investment in family policy.  They contend that now is the time for conservatives who take a broader view to recognize the value of such an investment.  Conservatives must not be guilty of neglecting the permanent things by allowing the family foundation to erode.


Dr. Christensen is an assistant professor in the department of English at Southern Utah University and adjunct fellow of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society.  Duncan is director of the Marriage Law Foundation and is the director of Sutherland’s Center for Family and Society.



Over the past few weeks, we have fielded a number of phone calls from concerned citizens asking why Sutherland Institute would oppose a tobacco-tax increase.  We appreciate the interest of all who have taken time to learn more about this issue.


In short, Sutherland is not opposed to a tobacco tax in principle.  However, we continue to urge the State Legislature to refrain from raising any and all taxes in this economic recession.  This charge includes Tobacco Tax Revisions – HB 196 Substitute.


In both human and statistical terms, the long-term impacts of such a tax are overwhelmingly positive.  They include enhanced individual health as current smokers quit and potential future smokers choose not to start, and improved fiscal security for public health programs that often pay the healthcare costs of smokers.


Those benefits, however, will only materialize significantly over the long-term.  For example, the health benefits of higher tobacco taxes are likely to be minimal in the short-term as: 1) fully-addicted smokers will continue to smoke, 2) partially-addicted smokers may quit but will be plagued by withdrawal symptoms and short-term health difficulties associated with cutting off use of an addictive substance, and 3) potential future smokers add nothing to the short-term positive impacts of a tobacco-tax increase.  Because the health benefits of higher tobacco taxes accrue slowly, the short-term benefits for public health programs will similarly be limited.


The costs of a tobacco-tax increase, on the other hand, are immediate.  The Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimates that the tobacco-tax increases being considered will decrease economic activity in the state by more than $107 million over the next two years – in the middle of a severe recession, no less.  In human terms, this could translate into thousands of job losses for Utahns, most of whom are non-smokers, because their already financially-strapped employers cannot absorb additional decreases in revenue without layoffs.  These job losses would occur in the near future and be devastating to many Utah families whose primary breadwinners would become unemployed in a job-starved economy.


Sutherland is not opposed to taxes as needed, but we believe that raising taxes right now is an imprudent idea.  It sends the wrong message to both government agencies who will nearly always resist needed cuts and needed reviews of their numerous programs, and to Utah’s struggling households whose own family finances should not be the answer every time the government has a budget pinch.


We assert that more good in the long-term will come from an insistence by the Legislature for cutting budgets, reviewing existing programs, and prioritizing the proper role of government than will ever come from a tax increase that burdens Utah’s families without providing a proper budgetary solution.


It is Sutherland’s position that the middle of a recession is the wrong time to inflict such short-term impacts and pain on individuals, families, and businesses in Utah.  The goals of a tobacco-tax increase are laudable and worth pursuing, but it would be better to implement such a measure once the economy has improved.  In other words, it would be better when employees are less likely to lose their jobs because their employers can more easily absorb the revenue losses that inevitably follow a tax increase.