Editorial: Solution more complicated than problem

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 3, 2006

Now that the state’s &8220;health impact fee&8221; has gone up in smoke, it begs the question as to who should receive the roughly $100 million the state generated from the 75-cents-per-pack tax last fall.

According to a recently filed lawsuit, those who paid the tax &045; cigarette purchasers &045; should, rather than tobacco manufacturers and wholesalers who passed the extra cost onto consumers.

In mid-December, a Ramsey County District Court judge ruled that the fee violated a 1998 settlement between the state of Minnesota and the tobacco industry. Now a group of Minnesotans have come forward, filing the class action lawsuit with the hope that the $100 million will fall into consumers’ hands &045; all while the state is appealing the district court judge’s ruling.

The plaintiffs have a point. Ultimately, cigarette purchasers paid for the &8220;fee,&8221; and it would only make sense that they be reimbursed should the ruling stand. Though it is plausible that those who paid the tax get the refund, a class action suit wouldn’t fully reimburse everyone who paid the tax when it was in effect from last August until December. Participants would receive a set amount, not what they paid in tax. And then there is the complicated task of determining who would be eligible to join the class lawsuit.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Marshall Tanick, claims the lawsuit has precedent, citing cases involving utility rates. However, it is much easier to identify utility customers with their account numbers than tobacco purchasers who shuffle in and out of convenience stores.

We feel for those who have unfairly paid a tax for goods and services that was later ruled illegal and understand why they are angry and frustrated. However, when the solution may become more complicated than the problem and doesn’t adequately recompense those directly affected, we wonder if it just isn’t best for the state to use the money in some other way for greater benefit, be it education or infrastructure.

&045; Faribault Daily News, Jan. 27