JEFFERSON CITY — An increase in Missouri's tobacco tax proposed by state Rep. Mary Still would generate $400 million in new revenue for education if approved by state voters.
Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation at 17 cents per pack. Mary Still, D-Columbia, wants to increase that tax to 89 cents. The new tax, proposed in House Bill 1478, would remain well below the national average of $1.46. The tax also would apply to cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco.
"I value funding education over having the lowest cigarette tax in the country," Still said Tuesday.
Last week, Gov. Jay Nixon released a proposed budget for fiscal 2013 that would cut higher education funding by $89 million.
"The way to avoid cuts to higher education is to have more revenue coming in," Still said.
Still has several co-sponsors on the bill, including Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, but she has no Republican co-sponsors. She also is working with the Missouri Cancer Society and the Missouri Budget Project and she has consulted the website for the Missouri Foundation for Health for information to support the rationale behind her bill.
The amount of revenue added by the tax would be above limits established by the Missouri Constitution's Hancock Amendment, which means it would require voter approval to become law.
Still said because the higher tobacco tax would be subject to a public vote, that her bill has a fighting chance. But it has a long road ahead. The bill was introduced on Tuesday and will now be referred to a House committee, possibly the Ways and Means Committee, for a hearing. If it clears the committee, it would go the House for floor debate and then to the Senate.
If approved, it would appear on the November general election ballot unless a special election is called before then.
Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, also has filed Senate Bill 638, which would increase Missouri's tax on cigarettes to 43 cents. His proposal, however, would send the money to the state's general revenue fund. Lamping's bill also would exempt the first $2,000 of Missouri adjusted gross income from state income tax and adjust tax rates on other levels of income.
Still and Lamping aren't the only ones calling for higher tobacco taxes. Several initiative petitions have been approved by Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, and supporters are collecting signatures to have them placed on the ballot.
Missouri ranks fourth in the nation for percentage of adults who smoke and fifth in the number of new lung cancer cases, Still said in a news release.
Missouri received a failing grade on the American Lung Association's smoking report card for the fourth year in a row. Missouri received an F in all four categories: program spending, smoke-free air, cigarette tax and cessation.
Still has been pushing a higher tobacco tax for a couple of years.
"To me, a tobacco tax is a no-brainer," she said.