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Group seeks to raise Missouri tobacco taxes for early-childhood education programs

Next month, SSM Health Care will no longer hire smokers.
Flickr | SuperFantastic
Next month, SSM Health Care will no longer hire smokers.

The second group in a week has filed proposed initiative petitions aimed at increasing Missouri’s tobacco tax.

A campaign group called Raise Your Hand For Kids on Wednesday filed six versions of an initiative-petition proposal for the 2016 ballot that call for increasing the state’s cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack.

The state’s tobacco tax now is 17 cents a cigarette pack, the nation’s lowest.

The group’s aim is to use the money to improve Missouri’s early-childhood education programs, on a state and local level.

To pay for the programs, the group’s goal is to increase Missouri’s tobacco tax to 67 cents a pack, either by 2017, or phased in by 2021. Coupled with a tax increase on other tobacco products, the higher taxes are slated to raise at least $225 million a year when fully in place.

The six initiative-petition proposals – each with slight differences -- replace six others that the group had been filed earlier with the Missouri secretary of state’s office.

Raise Your Hand For Kids is the Kansas City-based campaign arm of the Alliance for Childhood Education.

Erin Brower, executive director of Raise Your Hand For Kids, said the new versions reflected – in part – reaction to the rival petitions filed Monday by an association representing Missouri gas stations and convenience stores.

The two groups had been in talks

Brower said her group had been surprised and disappointed by Monday’s decision of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association to file its own proposals, which would increase the state’s tobacco tax by 23 cents, to a total of 40 cents a pack.

The two groups had been in private talks, Brower said. “We had been working with them.”

That’s apparently no longer the case, she added.

The Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association had opposed and helped defeat three earlier proposed tobacco-tax hikes on statewide ballots in 2002, 2006 and 2012.

While glad for their mutual agreement that some sort of tobacco-tax hike is warranted, Brower contended that the 23-cent-a-pack proposal by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association “doesn’t begin to address the needs of our state."

Brower also questioned one of the rival association’s proposals to earmark the 23-cent increase for transportation needs.  She said that plan appeared to be a way to circumvent any proposal to increase Missouri’s gas tax, which also is among the nation’s lowest. (The rival association's other initiative-petition proposal to add all the additional money to the state government's general-revenue budget.)

In any case, both groups will need to collect close to 100,000 signatures apiece from registered voters, and turn them in by May 8.

If both make the ballot, court decisions indicate that the measure gaining the most votes will be the one to become law.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.