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Columbia Missourian

Missouri votes no on proposed tobacco tax increase

By Sasu Siegelbaum
November 7, 2012 | 12:45 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Missouri voters rejected a proposed increase in the state's excise tax on tobacco products on Tuesday.

The defeat of Proposition B continued a consistent voting trend against tobacco tax increases in the state that has the nation's lowest per-pack cigarette tax at 17 cents. Missouri residents also voted against similar proposals in 2002 (Proposition A) and 2006 (Amendment 3).

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The measure failed statewide by a thin margin, 51 percent to 49 percent, according to the Missouri Secretary of State's Office.

Boone County, however, favored Proposition B, with 59.6 percent of voters approving. Seven other counties — Adair, Clay, Jackson, Nodaway, Platte, St. Charles and St. Louis counties — along with the city of St. Louis, also voted for it.

Proposition B would have levied a 73-cents-per-pack increase on name-brand cigarettes, pushed the per-pack tax on value-brand cigarettes to $1.47 and increased the tax on smokeless tobacco products such as "chew" and "snuff" by 150 percent. It would also have established a 3.65-cent per-cigarette tax increase on roll-your-own tobacco products.

The proposition was intended to increase funding for public education and tobacco cessation and prevention programs. It targeted 50 percent of tax revenue for K-12 public education, 30 percent for higher education, and the remaining 20 percent for smoking cessation and prevention programs.

The fiscal note on the ballot issue estimated it would generate $283 million to $423 million per year. Kelly estimated it would generate more than $3 million for Boone County K-12 public schools alone.

The University of Missouri was planning to invest a portion of the anticipated revenue toward expanding its medical school enrollment and creating a clinical campus in Springfield. The one-time cost of these projects is an estimated $33 million, which could have been partially funded by $26.3 million the university system stood to receive from the tax.

State Reps. Mary Still, D-Columbia, Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, all favored Proposition B.

Kelly, who was unopposed in his bid for re-election to the House of Representatives, spent a lot of his campaign time and money advocating for the measure.

Both Democratic representatives expressed disappointment with the results. Kelly said he wasn't sure how Missouri would move forward in generating new funding for education but said he was pleased with the local results.

"I'm very proud of the people of Boone County who supported it by almost 60 percent," he said. "I'm disappointed that we won't be able to move our schools forward."

Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, led the opposition. Leone said on Tuesday morning that the new tax would jeopardize Missouri's competitive advantage over its border states.

"The 760 percent tax increase (on value-brand cigarettes) flips the dynamics so we go from a low-tax state to a higher than four of our eight border states," Leone said.

"That means all of that cross-border state traffic is going to stay home, so it's going to have serious economic consequences for small businesses," he said.

Leone also doubted that new tax revenue would reach the intended targets. He cited the use of state lottery and casino gambling revenue as past broken promises to fund education and health care.

"The promises can't be kept, and it's inappropriate of the supporters to be saying if this happens you will get X, Y, and Z because they just can't guarantee that," he said.

"We've seen that two times before with the lottery and casino gaming, where the money didn't go where everybody thought it would," an explanation that seemed to resonate among voters.

On Tuesday evening Leone said that he was "thrilled and grateful but not surprised by the outcome.”

The Missourian spoke with Boone County voters on Tuesday morning to get their views on Proposition B. Penny Moore, a manager with Columbia Insurance Group who voted at the Boone County Fire Protection District headquarters, shared Leone's view that new tax revenue from Proposition B would not go toward the intended targets.

"I'm opposed to it because there won't be any control of it later, such as where the money will go," she said.

Larry Allen, 65, also doubted Proposition B would directly channel money toward education and tobacco cessation programs. He voted at the First Church of the Nazarene.

"I voted no on Proposition B because it's an awesome idea, but just like the lottery, the money will be appropriated somewhere else," Allen said.

Jeff Perkins, 48, a programmer assistant at Columbia Insurance Group, said he didn't vote for Proposition B because he thought the government would misuse the proceeds.

"It's like the lottery; they don't use it for what it was intended," he said after voting at Grace Bible Church.

Proposition B supporters in Boone County mostly cited benefits to education and public health as their motivations for favoring it. Donna Ogborn, 40, a special education teacher at West Junior High School, said that she voted yes because "it's better for the kids."

Joe Pintz, 38, an MU art professor, agreed. "As an educator, I voted for Proposition B, to bring in extra funding supporting education," Pintz said.

Sue Sinele, 49, a registered nurse, also voted yes on Proposition B. "I think it's sad that we have the lowest tax on cigarettes in the country," she said. "As a cancer nurse, I see a lot of death from lung cancer so I am for Prop B."

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.