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'Paying the Piper'

May 14, 1987

Well-meaning efforts to raise revenues on the state and federal levels may be leading to ill-considered solutions. Witness the proposals being floated to raise excise taxes on items such as gasoline, liquor and cigarettes. Your editorial (March 27), "Paying the Piper," illustrated the lack of awareness of the inequity of excise taxes for low-income Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.

The burden of excise taxes falls heaviest on those least able to pay: The smaller the family budget, the larger the proportion of income paid in excise taxes. So, groups with high poverty rates, such as Hispanics, blacks, and female-headed single-parent households, are particularly hard-hit by this type of tax.

As a percentage of income, excise tax rates are as much as 15 times higher for low-income families than for wealthier households. A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office showed that the relative impact of a federal excise tax increase on low-income families would be as much as three times the impact on higher-income taxpayers.

Wealthier citizens no doubt would agree with your assessment that excise tax increases pose no real "hardship"--but those on tighter budgets view it differently. Perhaps, as you suggest, raising the taxes might discourage consumption of gas, liquor, and cigarettes--but by whom? It is our government's intention to deny these everyday items only to the poor?

In short, you are correct that taxpayers must "pay the piper" for government services, but we must not force low-income and minority citizens to pick up a disproportionate share of the tab.



Obledo is past president of the League of United LatinAmerican Citizens.

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