Voters to consider tax increase
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Voters to consider tax increase

Date: October 11, 2006
By: Kathryn Buschman
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Voters will decide whether to amend the Missouri Constitution and increase the state's tobacco tax by 80 cents a pack. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Wednesday to allow the tax increase initiative to appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"We are elated," said Jim Blaine, spokesperson for Committee for a Healthy Future, which sponsored the ballot measure.  "Big tobacco has tried every possible tactic to keep this off the ballot but the Supreme Court put us on the ballot this morning." 

The court unanimously ruled proponents gained enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot. The court also ruled the measure does not appropriate money other than the new revenue it generates. 

In order for a constitution-altering ballot initiative to be placed on the ballot,  valid signatures from 8 percent of voters from the last gubernatorial election need to be collected in six out of the nine congressional districts.

In August Secretary of State Robin Carnahan declared the initiative to be 274 signatures short of the required 23,527 needed from the Kansas City area. Last month a  lower court judge ruled to allow the measure to be on the ballot saying election officials failed to validate more than 1,000 signatures.

Last week attorney Marc Ellinger, representing Missourians Against Tax Abuse, argued more than 3,000 signatures should not have been counted because the addresses on the petition did not match voter registration files.

Blaine, who called the opponent's challenge "goofy" said he expects future challenges from tobacco companies.

The measure would increase the current 17-cents-a-pack cigarette tax to 97-cents a pack-or 4-cents a cigarette. The tax on other tobacco products would increase from the current 10 percent to 30 percent of the manufacturer's invoice price. If approved, the changes would take effect Jan. 1.

The tax increase is estimated to generate $351-$499 million annually to fund tobacco use prevention programs and health care programs. However, opponents of the measure argue the proposed amendment is not about smoking or the dangers of tobacco.

"Amendment 3 is about the greed of corporate heath care-that's hospitals, HMOs and drug companies, and it's about the government wasting even more of our tax payers' dollars," said Ronald Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

Leone also said the state has wasted almost $1 billion since 2000 in tobacco revenue received from the Smokeless Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Leone said that money should have been spent on tobacco diseases and health care issues.

"I guess the fundamental question we have is why should we trust politicians with even more of our tax payer dollars?" Leone asked. "I have never seen a lock box that politicians and bureaucrats couldn't pick and they will be able to pick Amendment 3."

A similar ballot initiative was narrowly defeated in 2002.

Leone said more than 82.5 percent of the money generated from tax increase is not required to be spent on tobacco related diseases or tobacco sensation programs. "We believe if you are going to legitimately pass a sin tax it should be used to cure the sin." Leone continued to say the majority of the tax money will go directly to corporate health care institutions. "These [institutions] are literally trying to hoodwink voters into approving  their very own constitutional slush fund." 

However, Blaine said money going toward health care is a good thing. "And thank goodness that it does, because that's what enables people to have access to preventive care to help get them off of tobacco and to also help prevent their diseases from progressing to the point where they become life-threatening and very expensive." "

Missouri's current cigarette tax is the second lowest in the nation-behind South Carolina's 7-cent tobacco tax.