In many categories, Missouri has the lowest taxes in the country. The Morgan Quitno "State Rankings 2010" book lists Missouri as:
- 47th-lowest in per capita taxes.
- 46th-lowest in corporate income tax.
- 40th-lowest in general revenue sales tax.
Now Missouri has another record low. As of July 1, when South Carolina raised its cigarette tax to 55 cents a pack, Missouri had the lowest cigarette tax in the nation. Missouri’s 17-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes is now well below all the tobacco-producing states and all surrounding states. In fact, we could raise our tax by 12 cents a package and still be the lowest, with Virginia still above us at 30 cents. In other words, we could double our cigarette tax and be the second-lowest. Right now, when adjusted for inflation, Missouri’s cigarette tax is actually lower today than it was in 1961.
If this is a race to the bottom, we win.
But, what is the prize?
- More smokers — already we rank fourth in the country in the percentage of adults who smoke.
- More citizens suffering from lung cancer — we rank fifth in the number of new lung cancer cases and we have the seventh-highest lung cancer death rate.
- More pregnant women smoking — 31 percent of Missouri pregnant women on Medicaid smoke. This results in lower-birth weight babies, at significant costs and with terrible illnesses.
But, forget for a moment the tragedy of these deaths and illnesses. And forget that our state is in the deepest budget hole since the Great
Depression, which requires all of us to tighten our belts.
Let's look at this simply from a position of fairness. Citizens who smoke are costing our state a bundle. Missouri now pays $738 per pregnant woman to treat tobacco-related problems. The Missouri Budget Project estimates that smoking-related illness costs the state’s Medicaid system $641 million in 2009 of combined federal and state funds, of which $256 million was state general revenue.
It is time to ask citizens who smoke to do their parts in helping us cover their expenses.
A 12-cent increase in the cigarette tax — that’s less than a penny a cigarette — would raise about $68 million.
Our constitution restricts the amount of new taxes the legislature can impose any given year without a vote of the people. Since a 12-cent increase produces a revenue increase well below the ceiling mandated by the constitution, this amount could be imposed directly by the legislature.
An alternative would be to send this issue directly to the voters. Let the voters decide if they would support a greater increase. A $1-a-pack increase would net a $570 million revenue gain, and keep Missouri well below the national cigarette tax average and in line with our border states.
Either proposal moves Missouri ahead — both on health and well-being of our citizens.
Either proposal improves our ability as a state to balance our budget and increases revenues to protect our investments, improve our economy and maintain our crumbling infrastructure.
Either proposal serves as a user tax, allowing citizens who smoke to contribute their fair share of the costs placed upon our state.
The race to the bottom is one we can’t afford to win. I will work this session with like-minded legislators to address this issue of fairness and personal responsibility.
Statistics were provided by Missouri Budget Project and Center for Disease Control. Mary Wynne Still is the state representative for the 25th District.