Rural counties reject Amendment 3

Opponents said they feared improper use of the 80-cent-per-pack tax increase.
Wednesday, November 8, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:18 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Voters on Tuesday were on track to reject Amendment 3, a constitutional amendment that would raise the state’s tax on a pack of cigarettes to 97 cents from 17 cents and the tax on other tobacco products, like cigarette paper, smokeless tobacco and cigars, to 30 percent from 10 percent.

At press time, it appeared that the state’s rural counties voted against the measure, though preliminary results from the counties surrounding St. Louis and Kansas City showed the tax receiving a majority of the vote.

One of the main arguments raised by opponents of the tax was that the amendment’s wording could produce an “unfunded mandate,” creating programs that would require more money than what the taxes would generate.

Joan Simms, a 62-year-old factory worker in Columbia, said she voted against the tax because she worried the money would be spent improperly.

“I just can’t see them putting any more money to waste,” Simms said. “I know they’re not going to be doing with it what they’re supposed to.”

According to the ballot language, the anticipated revenue from the tax would have been between $351 million and $499 million annually and would have been spent on anti-smoking programs and health care for the uninsured.

The Committee for a Healthy Future, the group that proposed the initiative, said it proposed that the increase be put into the constitution because it would lock in the funds and prevent politicians from misusing the money, as they did with the tobacco settlement money, said executive director Cindy Erickson.

Several Boone County voters said that regardless of whether the money would be spent properly, they still felt the 80-cent increase was too much.

“I’m really against tobacco use, but I thought the amount of taxation on this was just ridiculous,” said Royce Bervig, 50.

The initiative had a hard-enough time just getting on the ballot.

In August, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan knocked the initiative off the ballot because she said the Committee for a Healthy Future was missing 274 of the required 23,527 signatures needed from the Kansas City area.

Cole County Circuit Judge Thomas Brown ruled in September, though, that the signatures backing the measure were valid, which prompted an appeal by Missourians Against Tax Abuse, a group opposing the initiative.

Less than a month before the general election, Missouri’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there were enough valid signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

“It was a long fight for us,” Erickson said. “The tobacco industry did their predictable things trying to keep it from the ballot, and once it was on trying to confuse voters.”

At press time, Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which opposed the initiative, would only say that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome.

At its 17-cent level, Missouri’s tax on a pack of cigarettes is second lowest in the nation. If the tax had been increased, Missouri’s tax would have been boosted to 21st in the nation, just below Illinois’ 98-cent tax.

The ballot initiative was Missouri’s second attempt to raise the state’s tobacco tax. In 2002, voters narrowly defeated a proposed 55-cent increase.

The 80-cent tax increase would have been the state’s first increase since 1993.

Erickson said that although she’s unsure if the fight to get a tax increase will continue in the future, she is confident that the campaign this fall was successful in informing Missourians about the effects of tobacco use.

“We had a campaign that stated the truth and we definitely educated Missourians about the devastating impact tobacco has had on our state,” she said.

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