For those who seek to increase sin taxes as a means of funding social engineering, the experience of Tennessee should give pause. The state passed a large increase in cigarette taxes, creating a large disparity between Tennessee and its neighbor states. Since the people in Tennessee can drive elsewhere to pick up their smokes, the state has decided to do border inspections to charge people for engaging in free-market economics -- and some may not be able to drive to other states at all as a consequence (via Instapundit):
Starting today, state Department of Revenue agents will begin stopping Tennessee motorists spotted buying large quantities of cigarettes in border states, then charging them with a crime and, in some cases, seizing their cars.
Critics say the new “cigarette surveillance program” amounts to the use of “police state” tactics and wrongfully interferes with interstate commerce. But state Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr says his department is simply doing its job, enforcing a valid state law while protecting Tennessee retailers who properly pay state taxes.
Agents have already been watching out-of-state stores that sell cigarettes near the Tennessee border to “get a feel where problem areas are,” Farr said.
While declining to be specific, the commissioner said “problem areas” are generally along interstate highways with exits near the Tennessee border.
I can't wait for the first legal challenge to this enforcement. As far as I can see, it violates federal sovereignty in interstate commerce, the 4th amendment, and the spirit of the entire Constitution. Let's try to tackle this one issue at a time.
First, Tennessee has no jurisdiction over what stores in other states sell, even if the material was illegal, which tobacco is not. They can't conduct surveillance in Missouri, for instance. The fact that they are "watching out-of-state stores that sell cigarettes" should be enough to demand some resignations, starting with the commissioner himself.
Second, people do have the right to cross state lines to purchase legal commodities. If Tennessee wants to hike its cigarette taxes far beyond its neighbors, then it's the state's fault that its shop owners can't compete. It's not the fault of the consumer who makes a smart choice to cross the border and buy in bulk. Unless the product itself is illegal, the state of Tennessee has no right to interfere in that transaction.
What trips the wires of Tennessee's enforcement? As few as three cartons, according to the commissioner and Tennessee state law, which makes that a misdemeanor. Twenty-five cartons will result in auto forfeiture, between one and six years in prison for a felony conviction, and a $3,000 fine. None of this has to be predicated on an explicit act to bootleg the cigarettes, either, but merely possession of a legal product.
Tennessee wants to set itself up as a police state while, as one Republican state legislator notes, it does nothing about illegal aliens transiting the state. It demonstrates what happens when the effort to squeeze tax dollars from citizens runs out of control. The notion that an American cannot cross a state border without risking arrest for purchasing a completely legal product for his own use should be anathema to everyone across the political spectrum.