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Two cigarette tax questions green-lit for ballot

Two different questions involving raising Missouri's tobacco tax will appear on this November's ballot./KRCG 13 photo

Secretary of State Jason Kander on Tuesday put two different cigarette tax hikes on this November's ballot.

The two initiatives became the focus of competing petition signature drives this spring. One proposal, sponsored by a group calling itself Raise Your Hand for Kids, would amend the state's constitution to raise the cigarette tax by 60 cents per pack. The state estimates it could raise more than $300 million. The ballot language would require at least 75 percent of the money to go toward early childhood education programs, with 10-15 percent going to early childhood health and development programs and the rest funding smoking-cessation programs. This proposal will appear on the ballot as Constitutional Amendment 3.

The second ballot proposal, backed by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, would raise the cigarette tax by 23 cents per pack. All of the money would go toward transportation infrastructure. The state estimates this proposal would raise $95-103 million. Unlike the Raise Your Hand for Kids proposal, this measure would not be a constitutional amendment. It would appear on the ballot as Proposition A.

At least two key teachers' groups have already announced their opposition to Amendment 3, the Raise Your Hand for Kids initiative. The Missouri Retired Teachers' Association and the Missouri National Education Association both say they dislike language establishing an unelected commission to oversee the money raised. Kathy Steinhoff, a longtime math teacher and president of the Columbia Missouri NEA chapter, said there is no requirement that the commissioners have an educational background. Moreover, she said NEA isn't comfortable with the language being a constitutional amendment rather than a change in state statute.

"If there were some negative consequences, it would be really hard to change it," she said. "It would tie the hands of local school districts and local entities."

Raise Your Hand for Kids did not return a call seeking comment for this story. On its website, the group cites a Rutgers University study that found 3 percent of Missouri's 4-year-olds were enrolled in preschool in 2014. Among the states bordering Missouri, Kansas had the next lowest share, with 20 percent of toddlers receiving a public preschool education. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Missouri's cigarette tax, currently 17 cents per pack, is lower than all of the other state and the District of Columbia. The next lowest is in Virginia, at 30 cents per pack. Amendment 3 would raise Missouri's cigarette tax to 77 cents per pack, which would be the 39th highest tax in the nation. Proposition A would raise the tax to 40 cents per pack, which would be third-lowest in the country and still 8.5 cents below the average among the country's tobacco-producing states.

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