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Tobacco tax narrowly defeated

November 05, 2002
By: Jason McLure
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters can exhale in relief after voters narrowly defeated a ballot issue that would have increased cigarette taxes by 55 cents a pack.

The tax increase would have raised over $343 million in state revenues for Medicaid, prescription drugs for seniors, improved hospital emergency services, life sciences research, tobacco prevention, and early childhood programs.

Some voters expressed a lack of faith that the increased tax would be used for the causes specified.

"I have a lack of confidence that they would put the money where they said they will," said Elizabeth Simons, 53, of Columbia. "I don't smoke, but I'm leery of giving them any more money."

The proposition was defeated in spite of the political and financial backing of some of the state's most prominent business groups and politicians, including Gov. Bob Holden.

Brad Ketcher of Citizens for a Healthy Missouri, the group that initiated the petition, could not conceal his dismay at the early results late Tuesday showing the proposition trailing by more than four percentage points.

Citizens for a Healthy Missouri, an alliance of Missouri hospitals and Kansas City and St. Louis business groups, raised over $5.3 million to campaign for Proposition A.

The Missouri Hospital Association alone contributed $1.9 million to the campaign. The state's hospitals would have stood to gain an estimated $100 million annually in supplemental Medicaid payments from the state.

The St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas also would have received a boost from the estimated $48 million in annual state grants for science research. Language in the proposition had set aside nearly all the research money for spending in those two cities and the University of Missouri.

Passage of the amendment would have also been a financial boon for Columbia. Between increased state funding for the city's hospitals and new money for life science research, budget strapped MU and MU Health Care alone stood to net at least $10.4 million a year in new funding.

The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association led an active campaign against the proposition. That group posted signs and fliers statewide at gas stations and ran anti-tax ads on several media outlets.

Ronald Leone, director of the group, said higher cigarette taxes would have fueled smuggling and Internet sales of cigarettes from lower tax states.

But ultimately, it seemed many voters made their decision on the tax based on personal reasons.

"I voted against the cigarette tax," said Marily Buchner, 71. "I smoke. I don't want to have to pay more. I do not think at all that cigarettes cause as much cancer as the government says it does. Even if it did, people should take responsibility for their own actions."

"Prop. A is important to me because it is a split issue in the family," said James Shultz, 69. "I'm a nonsmoker and my wife is a smoker. I voted for Prop. A even though it will cost me more money. It's just another way to get my wife to quit smoking."

This is the second time this year voters have rejected an earmarked tax. Missourians also defeated a proposition to raise gas taxes to improve roads in August.

Ketcher did not leave out the possibility of his group bringing a tobacco tax increase before voters again in 2004.

"I don't know yet," he said. "We'll have to evaluate that later on. The state's health care needs certainly are not going to go away."