CAMPAIGN 2016: Rival tobacco tax initiatives to appear on same ballot
JEFFERSON CITY —
A bitter war of words has erupted over a pair of proposed cigarette tax hikes on the November ballot.
Constitutional Amendment 3 and Proposition A both would raise the state's cigarette tax, currently the lowest in the country. Ironically, both campaigns have been backed in part by tobacco companies.
Amendment 3 proponents, the group Raise Your Hand for Kids, has wanted to raise the cigarette tax by 15 cents a pack each year over four years, or 60 cents in total. This would bring the total tax on cigarettes to 77 cents for each pack. Most of the money would be used to fund early childhood education programs, with the rest funding smoking-cessation programs.
Linda Rallo, the group's co-founder, said 4 percent of Missouri's four-year-old children are enrolled in publicly-funded preschool programs. Among the states that border Missouri, the next-lowest rate is Kansas, with 20 percent enrolled in preschool. Seventy-six percent of Oklahoma's four-year-olds attend a public preschool.
"Children that get those services in those first five years will come to school ready to learn," she said, "but it's not just the academic part that's important. It's those soft skills. Those are things like learning how to get along. Learning how to communicate."
A rival propostion sponsored by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, known as Proposition A, would raise the cigarette tax by 23 cents, bringing the total cigarette tax to 40 cents a pack. Proposition A's money would go toward road and bridge maintenance. Amendment 3 would put the tobacco tax into the state constitution, while Proposition A would put it in state statute.
"It benefits all Missourians, it doesn't create any new programs or bureaucracy, it helps to solve a problem that we all experience, which are bad roads and bridges," MPCA Director Ron Leone said.
MPCA has represented the state's convenience stores and as such is the de facto voice of the tobacco industry in the state of Missouri. It has fought against previous efforts to raise the tobacco tax. But Raise Your Hand for Kids has received funding from the tobacco industry as well.
State finance disclosure documents showed RAI Services Company, the parent company of tobacco giant Reynolds American, has contributed a total of $2,777,679.90 to the campaign since the end of 2015. Amendment 3's opponents have argued the measure is an effort by Reynolds to force smaller rivals out of the Missouri market. Leone said he doesn't see why a constitutional amendment is necessary.
Rallo said her group had already submitted its petition to the Secretary of State's office by the time Reynolds started making donations. State records showed Raise Your Hand for Kids was formed in March of 2015, and Reynolds wrote its first check to the group in mid-December. Asked why the measure would create a program through the state constitution, Rallo said a constitutional amendment would keep the money out of the hands of politicians.
Edward Greim, a constitutional lawyer working on behalf of Amendment 3, said if both proposals pass, there is no question Amendment 3 would go into effect. Proposition A might or might not go into effect depending on how the courts interpret a provision that would repeal the measure if similar taxes are enacted.