Still's speech riles Chamber of Commerce members

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 | 7:43 p.m. CST; updated 9:09 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

*An earlier version of this article misidentified Kurt Schaefer, the senator from Columbia.

COLUMBIA — State Rep. Mary Still caused quite a stir when she spoke before the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee on Tuesday morning.

Committee members invited Still, D-Columbia, to speak about the state of education funding. Instead, she used the opportunity to stump for an increase in the state's cigarette tax and for a new tax on Internet sales. Chamber members viewed her remarks as more akin to a campaign stump speech.

Still, who represents the 25th District in the Missouri House, said she will run against incumbent state Sen. Kurt Schaefer,* R-Columbia, in the new 19th District next year.

From the beginning of her speech, Still was critical of the Republican-led legislature for cutting corporate taxes, saying that was one reason the state struggles to spend enough on education.

"I'm concerned that our policies in Jefferson City — in the legislature — are taking us in the wrong direction," she began.

In seeking solutions to the problem of education funding, she said, a hike in the cigarette tax would be "low-hanging fruit."

"We are the lowest in the country," Still said of Missouri's 17-cent-a-pack tax on smokes. She noted that two years ago, South Carolina — a leading tobacco producer — raised its tax rate by 50 cents a pack.

"We can double our tax, and we'd be the second-lowest in the country," she said. Only Virginia's 30-cent tax would be lower.

Still proposed raising the tax by 73 cents to 90 cents per pack, a move she estimates would raise $283 million annually. She also argued that smoking creates $600 million in annual health care costs and research shows higher cigarette prices deter young adults from picking up the habit.

Still also favors taxing Internet sales. Because there is no federal sales tax, online retailers pay state sales taxes only when they have warehouses or other property in the state where a customer lives.

"Missouri businesses are at about a 6 to 9 percent disadvantage because of that," Still said. She supports legislation known as the Missouri Main Street Fairness Act that would add Missouri to a 24-state compact establishing uniform tax rates for products purchased over the Internet.

"By simply joining the compact, we get $20 million annually," Still said, noting that U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., supports similar federal legislation.

Still took questions for about five minutes. One touched on her opposition to the so-called "fair tax," a proposal that would replace the state's income tax with higher sales taxes. Still said that would raise taxes on the working class and the poor.

"I call it an unfair tax because it'd be a huge tax on everyone in this room," Still said to laughter from the audience.

After Still left the meeting, it didn’t take long for member Terry Smith, dean of academic affairs at Columbia College, to voice his displeasure at her speech. Smith described himself as a friend of Still and her husband, Russell Still, but said he felt compelled to speak up.

"This is an inappropriate forum for a campaign speech," Smith said, suggesting Schaefer should have been invited to provide balance.

Committee co-chair Cheri Ghan said Schaefer, an attorney, had been scheduled to speak, too, but he had to cancel so he could make a court appointment.

In an interview after the committee adjourned, Ghan also expressed dismay at Still's tone. "We were not expecting a political speech. We were just looking for straight information about (education) funding."

Reached by phone later in the day, Still expressed regret that her speech had been taken as political.

"I'm sorry to hear that," she said. "I did not even think about that."

Still said that she was simply offering her thoughts on the challenges facing education in the state.

"I can't think of anything I talked about that could be considered overly political," Still said, adding that every proposal she floated had bipartisan support.

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John Erkle December 14, 2011 | 7:48 a.m.

No wonder liberal democrats cant run a business,proposing an increase in taxes to deter consumption that leads to a reduction in net revenue gains. Punitive taxes on a minority is an unjust tax on its head. Let alone the fact higher taxes have led to the biggest blackmarket operations for tobacco in world history.

If Im a bar,I want smoking. Why,because my clientele smoke when they drink or shoot pool. In fact if your a smoker,smoking goes hand in hand with anything you do,be it working,socializing or out eating dinner or just having coffee with friends in a coffee house like the wafflehouse.

The destruction or denormalization plan of the smoke-free coalition is to do just that,its called the CHAPMAN PLAN of denormalization. They fully intend to destroy social smoking period!Thats the madness of the bans regardless of the social fabric destroyed or the economic losses incurred.

It also plays ino the hands of the anti-alcohol folks who are basically just the same anti-smoking people to boot.

Their money and backing comes from the US FEDERAL GOVMNT from their own people within that obama government utilizing stimulus grant money to buy smoking bans across the country along with attacks on the obese,another created public health epidemic!

The robert woods johnson foundation has funded these groups and created them like'' tobacco free kids'' or their spin off groups out of kansas city the one air alliance group!

Just last nite 2 cities turned down smoking bans Indianapolis and wheeling west virginia. The ban wagon of prohibition is just about over and its dying on the vine. Their bankrupt and even have Dr.Oz another rabid health nazi out begging for money for their socialist cause in anti-smoking. Clearly the days of prohibition are numbered and its just a matter of time til these zealots like State Rep. Mary Still are ignored and voted out by WE THE PEOPLE and they learn their lessons,dont mess with the peoples rights or freedoms.

(Report Comment)
John Erkle December 14, 2011 | 7:51 a.m.

Since obviously you don't realize what's been happening, the CDC and other federal agencies have been dooling out grant money to city, county, and other local governments that adopt smoking bans, not to mention to anti-smoking coalitions who push for stricter smoking bans. It's been happening in both the Saint Louis area, plus also in the Myrtle Beach area. I'll note that these aren't the only 2 areas of the country where these ban grants have been given to a smoking ban coalition.

Articles proving it's been happening(wasteful grant money being given to anti groups pushing for smoking bans, plus waving financial grants to communities that ultimately decide to ban smoking) in both parts of the country(grant money going to both Tobacco-Free Saint Louis in the Saint Louis area, and Smoke-Free Horry in the Myrtle Beach/Conway area):

Well just as everybody said even people in tobacco control sahigher taxes would lead to massive bootlegging in cigarettes! Look right in maryland the cigarette gestapo!

9 indicted for cigarette smuggling

They’re the tip of the iceberg,” Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said. “There is an explosion of cigarette smuggling going on.”

Comptroller’s Supervisory Agent Mike Madison peered through his binoculars, eyeing the black Toyota Camry as it pulled up to the Woodbridge tobacco shop. A man in a polo shirt got out, laid down a mat in his trunk and went inside. He emerged carrying several grocery bags — 10 to 12 cartons of cigarettes, Madison guessed — and drove away.

It sounds innocuous. But tobacco smugglers like these, officials say, are responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue to Maryland each year. On Thursday, Prince George’s County prosecutors announced that they had indicted nine people — allegedly responsible for nearly $30,000 in lost tax revenue — on criminal charges of transporting and conspiring to transport unstamped cigarettes.

Just like during alcohol prohibition:

Trade In Black-Market Cigarettes: Hot, Dangerous

(Report Comment)
John Erkle December 14, 2011 | 8:07 a.m.

Then theres the junk science these people used over the years to get smoking bans passed,the second hand smoke mythology.

Ive spent the last 5 years destoying this junk science and the evidence of its myth are everywhere. It doesnt take much googling to find sites that have debunked the claims of advocacy groups on every study they produce and every claim they make.

Once the great lie has been shown for what it is do the people become enraged,well only because they got attacked too. They may have been obese or maybe theyre mom or brother was a smoker and they cant take them out to eat any longer. Or that really age old thing called,they abused my intelligence,they thought they could pull a fast one over on us. Insults to peoples intelligence is perhaps the biggest social crime these anti-tobacco,anti-everyhting folks have done. It creates a sence of why believe anything public health may say in the general population,a distrust of the laws and especially a DISTRUST OF GOVERNMENT and politicians whether right or left!

To gain public trust and keep it truth and fact must prevail. The federal govmnt has wasted 165 billion dollars over the last 20 or so years on global warming junk science and it becomes very apparent after the GW emails showe dup that the government worked hand in hand with these eletists to spread another big lie, manmade globa warming. When we dig into it we find the same people pushing global warming are also pushing second hand smoke junk science! Its the progressive liberals who are at fault 90% of it. The social republicans are guilty too along with many religous orginizations that basically all climbed in the same bed and begat a PROHIBITION MOVEMENT.

Faith United: Disparate Faith Groups Come Together Against Big Tobacco

In 2005, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and leaders from many different religious denominations launched a national campaign — Faith United Against Tobacco — to mobilize the faith community across the country to support proven solutions to reduce smoking.

Faith groups involved in Faith United include, among others, United Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, National Council of Churches, Seventh Day Adventists, American Muslim Foundation, Southern Baptist Convention, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, Church Women United, Church of the Brethren and Islamic Society of North America.

We were involved in Prohibition and against pornography and gambling as predatory enterprises. Fighting tobacco use also fits well with Christian and other faith groups' teaching in general that the body is a holy temple.

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub December 14, 2011 | 10:01 a.m.

John, you conveniently leave out the role the insurance industry plays in this. Also when you call man's influence over global climate change "junk science", your credibility sinks. Perhaps, if you said that our polluted atmosphere, water, and food are also major players in the cancer epidemic, making it difficult to place all the blame on tobacco, your point could be considered. However, making it a political diatribe serves no other purpose than for you to vent.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 14, 2011 | 10:35 a.m.

Gary Straub wrote:

"if you said that our polluted atmosphere, water, and food are also major players in the cancer epidemic"

Actually the incidence of cancer has been decreasing since 2000, and cancer death rates are also declining. There is no "cancer epidemic". Most cancer comes from well-known causes like smoking, excessive alcohol use, inadequate fiber in the diet, and sun exposure/tanning.


(Report Comment)
Mike Martin December 14, 2011 | 11:46 a.m.

Mary: Going after "low lying fruit" is easy. Really shaking the tree, however, is what we all need people in your position to do.

If our government, which you represent, didn't have in place so many inequities with respect to who pays taxes and how much, we wouldn't need more tax increases.

But instead of proposing to reform these inequities and stop the abuses, you instead propose higher taxes on the very people who can least afford them -- average, every day consumers and small businesses.

All those tax increases do is help further subsidize the high and mighty.

You talk about raising corporate taxes. Tell that to GE, which paid no corporate taxes on $14 billion in profits last year. Any corporate tax increase will only hurt smaller companies, small businesses and the like. Stop lumping them in with the Big Boys who get all the breaks, and you should see why this is a cruddy idea.

Instead of raising taxes on Internet sales, why not lower taxes on brick-and-mortar sales? Help out small merchants rather than taking away one of the few real tax breaks average people enjoy on Internet goods.

Why do you think smokes are such "low-lying fruit," as you call them? Because taxes on smokes disproportionately hit average folks. Beyond tobacco companies muzzled by decades of litigation and bad press, there are no rich and powerful constituencies trying to keep cigarette taxes down.

Finally, why don't you get on top of reforming the property tax abuses that are helping destroy this community?

At least part of that abuse comes from developers unfairly taking advantage of a property tax break meant for farmers, and assessors illegally letting them. That law is a state law, one that Ed Robb -- a Republican -- said publicly he wanted to stop abuses of during his last statehouse campaign.

He didn't like the idea of developers taking tax breaks meant for farmers and he said it was both wrong and illegal.

He said it on a KFRU interview, I think for the Sunday Morning Roundtable. I'll never forget it. Good for Ed.

Where, I ask, are statehouse Dems on this issue? Are they like the Dems at County Hall, many of whom pay lip service to their ideals, all too willing to get into bed with powerful special interests? Or do they stand by what they preach?

Halting these tax abuses is a natural issue for Dems, as the political party that has traditionally defended the interests of the little guy and gal.

(Report Comment)

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