CHARLES MEMMINGER – As state governments struggle to balance their budgets during these hard times, they predictably try to put the hurt to “the usual suspects” to generate revenue: The poor souls battling various addictions and poor lifestyle choices … the boozers, the cigarette fiends, the gamblers, the French fry-eaters and the dope smokers.

They call these heartless revenue streams “sin taxes” and think it’s a great idea to throw the disheartening weight of the states’ financial troubles on the backs of these unfortunates.

I have consistently championed the leaving alone of these pitiful specimens of humanity. My god, they are not cash cows, they are confused rodents just trying to get by in a troubled world as best they can. I know, because I’ve been known to indulge in a few of their proclivities from time to time myself.

My suggestion to state lawmakers looking for a quick buck to feed government coffers is to leave the sinners alone and tax the virtuous. The virtuous are in much better shape physically and psychologically to have their pockets picked for the alleged good of the public. The virtuous will live a lot longer than the decrepit and so they are a better vessel in which to pour the hopes of long-term financial stability in than the leaky cistern of the self-debauched.

Some people thought I was just kidding about this crusade, just trying to get a cheap laugh via the literary vehicle of ironic juxtaposition. I’m here to tell you that I was serious all along and I don’t even know what “ironic juxtaposition” means.  And now it appears that my pleas to spare the sinners and tax the virtuous are beginning to be heard.

It has suddenly occurred to lawmakers in the state of Washington that the environmental do-gooders who have traded their gas-guzzling Mercedes for electric battery-powered cars are pulling a fast one on the state tax office.

Increasing taxes on gasoline has long been a default method of raising revenue. And while it doesn’t specifically target traditional sinners, it targets those politically incorrect and environmentally insensitive jerks who dare to use their beat up, gas-swilling pickup trucks to carry themselves and their children to the fields to pick lettuce every day. Don’t they know they are killing the earth?

The well-heeled virtuous ( and most virtuous are not only well-heeled, but well-shoed, well-pants-ed and well-shirted)  can afford to buy expensive electric cars. And while they are generally credited by doing so with “going green” they are also “saving green” by not having to buy heavily taxed gasoline.

To plug this sanctimonious loophole, the Washington legislature is considering a bill that would charge all electric car owners an annual $100 fee to make up for the taxes they aren’t paying on gas. I believe it is the first “virtue tax” to emerge. But it could be just the beginning.

There are lots of other ways to tax the virtuous. Have you seen those organic vegetables sold in the supermarket. Normal people line up just to stare at the price tags. I saw an organic apple encased in a hypobaric plastic cube that cost $10.89. And a single organic potato cost six bucks.

I assume an organic potato is grown in dirt like a regular potato so I’m not sure what the advantage is. Dirt is dirt, right? Anyone willing to buy a six dollar potato or an apple for $10.89 surely wouldn’t  mind a 25 percent virtue tax being added. I say any expensive organic produce should have such an added levy.

A lot of money via virtue taxes can be raised just in supermarkets. You know those guys in front of you at the checkout counter who bring in their own canvas grocery bags so they don’t have to use the plastic bags supplied by the stores? There should be a $1 canvas bag tax added to their bill. And bottled water should be taxed more than whisky.  Anyone willing to buy little bottles of designer water should be squeezed tax-wise like a sponge.

And virtue taxes shouldn’t stop there. There should be some kind of fee, duty or tariff for anyone who doesn’t smoke a pack of cigarettes and drink at least a case of beer a day. You can call it an “Anti-Redneck Tax.” If you aren’t going to be a redneck, you should pay for the privilege.

At fast food restaurants, tax any meal that isn’t deep fried. If the food item is leafy or green, tax the hell out of it. Anyone who eats green food at a fast food restaurant deserves to be hit hard in the wallet.

All eyes will be on Washington State to see if its experiment in taxing the virtuous works. If Washington is suddenly running a huge financial surplus, others will follow. And more than a few sinners will be tipping their shot glasses to that.

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Charles Memminger is a national award-winning columnist, screenwriter and author. His first novel, "Aloha, Lady Blue" will be published nationally Jan. 22, 2013 by St. Martin's Press. Memminger is a senior writer at Communications Pacific, Hawaii's premier communications, marketing and PR firms. Memminger's commentary represents his personal views and are not affiliated with any organization. To keep up with developments regarding "Aloha, Lady Blue," like him at: http://www.facebook.com/charles.memminger. E-mail him at cmemminger@hawaii.rr.com