With the state budget for the coming year looking to be written with much red ink, lawmakers must find as many options for generating revenue - and curbing spending - as possible without setting off either a constitutional crisis or a dangerous cutback in services.
With such a framework for drafting the spending document, few options are off the table and there have been a number of creative - if still uncomfortable - solutions floated. A proposal to eliminate a state sales-tax exemption on cigarettes is among them, and lawmakers should thoroughly consider the idea.
For the last 50 years, consumers who purchase cigarettes have not had to pay the 2.9 percent sales-tax rate levied by the state on most items. A proposal pitched by Democrats in the state House and Senate would repeal that exemption to the tune of $30 million in revenue for Colorado - hardly enough to fill the $300 million void expected in the coming budget year, but no small change either. It makes sense to find ways of generating more revenue, and taxing cigarettes is certainly a reasonable way of doing so.
There are appropriate items for which sales tax is exempted - including groceries - but cigarettes do not qualify thusly. And by eliminating the tax break, the cost of smoking increases - perhaps sufficiently to convince some smokers to give up the habit for economic, if not health reasons.
That would be an unintended but beneficial consequence that would improve Coloradans' health - though not the budget.
In any case, drawing more tax dollars out of cigarette purchases will help backfill a frighteningly underfunded list of expenditures while also making smokers think a little harder about their allocation of resources to an inherently harmful product. There is good to come from such a move.