COLUMBIA — A November ballot measure to significantly raise Missouri's tobacco tax to increase public education spending is drawing financial support from leaders of the state's flagship university and the other Missouri system campuses.
The Columbia Daily Tribune reported Tuesday that the campaign donors in favor of the Proposition B ballot measure include University of Missouri curator Warren Erdman, who contributed $5,000. His company, Kansas City Southern Railway Co., gave $25,000.
Other contributors include university system President Tim Wolfe, with a $1,000 donation; and chancellors from three of the system's four campuses.
The ballot item would raise Missouri's cigarette tax to 90 cents a pack. The current 17-cent tax is the lowest nationally; the national average is $1.46. The proposal could generate between $283 million and $423 million annually, with 50 percent of the additional revenue pegged for public schools and 30 percent to higher education. The remaining 20 percent would go toward smoking prevention and cessation.
The measure is supported by health organizations including the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association.
This will be the third time in a decade that a measure seeking to increase tobacco taxes has appeared on the statewide ballot. In 2002, Missourians defeated a 55-cent increase by roughly 31,000 votes and did the same in 2006, rejecting an 80-cent increase by about 61,000 votes.
Missourians for Health and Education, the ballot measure's backer, reported raising more than $2.8 million in the third quarter of the campaign, giving the group a campaign total of more than $4 million
The Tribune reported that five of Wolfe's top administrators donated to the cause, including Nikki Krawitz, vice president for finance and administration, who gave $500. University of Missouri-Kansas City Chancellor Leo Morton contributed $1,000, University of Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton gave $300, and Cheryl Schrader, chancellor of Missouri University of Science & Technology, donated $250.
Among university curators, member David Steward's company World Wide Technology Holding Co., contributed $25,000 to the committee. Curator Don Downing donated $1,000, while former curators John Carnahan III and Tom Atkins donated $2,500 and $750, respectively.
Walsworth Publishing, headed by former curator Don Walsworth, and the Columbia law firm of Harrison Van Matre, donated $5,000 apiece. Former curator Craig Van Matre is a partner in the law firm.
Wolfe said the state needs to decrease smoking rates and reduce the pressure of tobacco-related illnesses on Medicare and Medicaid and increase its support of public education.
"I'd rather brag about that (educational performance) than brag about having the lowest tax on cigarettes," he said.
The Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association's PAC is leading the campaign against the tax. The group reported bringing in roughly $513,000 this period, with two cigarette manufacturers — Cheyenne International of North Carolina and Xcaliber International of Oklahoma — each contributing $200,000.
Unlike previous attempts to raise the state cigarette tax, major tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds, are not participating in the campaign, which would impose additional costs on lesser-known tobacco brands.