In advance of the senate hearing a bill to raise taxes on tobacco products and sugary drinks, prominent politicians have voiced strong opposition to the proposal. Among them is Senator King-Nabors (R), who argued that the bill would hit the islands’ poor the hardest. He criticized what he saw as the folly of reducing a “holistic problem” in the commonwealth’s health down to simply sugar and tobacco.
The bill directs proceeds from the tax to health initiatives, but King-Nabors believes that they will be insufficient to make any significant progress on overall health, and will ultimately lead to worse outcomes by making the most poor even more so.
Critics of the bill have also suggested that it would not change the overall consumption of unhealthy products but simply change the market proportions for them. For example, the black market for cigarettes, they say, would increase, and consumers would buy less soda and more beer. What’s more, impoverished citizens spend a greater percentage of their income on the taxed products, and the tax is regressive, hurting them the most.
King-Nabors was joined in his opposition by Efraim Atalig, the mayor of Rota, the commonwealth’s southernmost island. Atalig echoed King-Nabors’ concerns about the tax hurting the poor and suggested that a better source for funding would be a tax on remittances since “those are funds that exit the CNMI.”
The tax was proposed by Representative Christina Sablan (D), but as of now, neither she nor any other proponent of the bill has spoken in support of it publicly. At the present, the opponents of the tax dominate the conversation.