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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Proposition B is good tax policy; good for schools

Monday, October 29, 2012 | 2:47 p.m. CDT

The best reason for Missouri voters to support Proposition B, which raises Missouri's lowest-in-the-nation tobacco tax from 17 cents to 90 cents, has little to do with tobacco or the schools, colleges and universities that will benefit from the increased revenue.

“We have to win this,” said Kansas City Republican businessman Warren Erdman, who is traveling the state stumping for Proposition B.

Why?

Because Missouri's politicians need to hear the message that the Show-Me State's race to the bottom in tax policy and education spending has gone far enough.

“If we can pass this we can demonstrate that tax increases are not radioactive,” said Mr. Erdman.

Keep in mind, this is not some liberal hippie talking.

Mr. Erdman is a vice president with Kansas City Southern, a rail transportation company. He was appointed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators by former Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican. He's a former chief of staff for Sen. Christopher S. “Kit” Bond, also a Republican.

In short, his conservative credentials are impeccable.

He's tired of seeing his beloved state fall blindly into a no-new-taxes hole while schoolchildren and roads and poor people suffer. He's seen the numbers indicating that Missouri ranks close to last among the 50 states in support for education. Part of the reason for that it is that Missouri also is a very low tax state.

Businesses need good schools, both for their employees' families, and to provide a pool of qualified future employees. Missouri is failing in this regard.

Proposition B is just a first step to righting that ship.

“We have to win this,” Mr. Erdman said. It's worth repeating.

Three times in the past decade, Missourians have said no to a tobacco tax increase. Those three proposals had their flaws, and so does this one. But Proposition B is better than its predecessors. We strongly urge Missouri voters to say Yes on B.

The initiative will raise somewhere between $300 million and $400 million. Half the money will go to local school districts, which have been shorted by the ;egislature's unwillingness to fully fund the school foundation formula. Thirty percent of the money will go to the state's colleges and universities, with some of that money specifically dedicated to helping train future health care workers. The rest of the money will be spent on tobacco cessation, which will contribute to reducing health care costs for all of us, even as we pick up higher Medicaid bills for treating smokers.

Finally, the proposition changes a loophole in Missouri law that has made it the dumping ground for cheap cigarettes. It makes all tobacco companies play by the same rules.

Prop B is no panacea. Voters would be right to be wary, based on recent history, that lawmakers might try to meddle with it once Proposition B is law. In recent years, lawmakers have shown little regard for the will of the people expressed at the ballot box.

But the bottom line is that our schools need more funding. Our lawmakers need to know that voters realize that revenue must be part of Missouri's solution. Voters have been saying yes to local school districts, in conservative and liberal communities, for years. It's time to say yes as a state.

Warren Erdman is right: We have to win this.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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