The country’s most aggressive anti-tax lobbyist is taking aim at Chris Christie over a new sales tax on electronic cigarettes endorsed by the New Jersey governor in his recent budget proposal.
Grover Norquist, the guardian of the notorious anti-tax pledge signed by most national Republicans, name-checked Christie in a recent letter calling on the New Jersey legislature to reject the GOP governor’s “misguided” proposal, which would tax e-cigarette products at the same rate as traditional cigarettes.
“Small businesses like convenience stores and especially brick and mortar vape shops will be hardest hit by this $35 million tax increase,” Norquist wrote, referring to the state Treasury’s estimate of the revenues. “By making New Jersey uncompetitive in e-cigarette pricing, the state would encourage smuggling, which will cost New Jersey small businesses tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.”
There are deeper undertones to Norquist’s salvo. Christie — despite his woes over a politically-charged traffic scandal — is weighing a run for president in 2016. Norquist, the president of Americans For Tax Reform, has led the lobbying effort to punish Republican lawmakers who vote for any tax increases.
A Christie spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The e-cigarette tax is one of several relatively modest taxes and fees in Christie’s new budget, seemingly proposed in an effort to appease the Democratic legislature and maintain some of the cross-partisan appeal that helped him win reelection with a whopping 60 percent of the vote last fall. Norquist’s letter took aim at other revenue-raisers in the governor’s budget, too.
He said the proposals weren’t “about tax law fairness; they are clearly cash grabs aimed at raising tens of millions of dollars.” The bottom of the letter, putatively addressed to the legislature, read: “Cc: Governor Chris Christie.”
The e-cigarette tax hike has the support of some Democrats, who call it fiscally responsible, and opposition from some, who say it punishes people who are trying to quit smoking by switching to e-cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine to the user through vapor rather than smoke, and have far fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The legislature discussed the proposal at a hearing last week.