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Mo. Supreme Court hears ballot initiative lawsuits

Mo. Supreme Court
(Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio)
Mo. Supreme Court

Six lawsuits involving three ballot initiatives were heard Monday by the Missouri Supreme Court.

At stake are ballot questions that would raise Missouri’s cigarette tax, raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour, and cap interest rates on payday loans.  The fate of all three may turn on whether the State Auditorhas the authority to estimate the financial impact of citizens’ petition initiatives.  Attorney Ronald Holliger argued that the High Court should uphold a lower court ruling supporting the State Auditor’s authority.

“The north steps of the (State) Capitol are being rebuilt right now," Holliger said.  "If tomorrow it were discovered that the design architect was not licensed in Missouri to sign the plans, would we tear down the work if it was correct?  Of course we wouldn’t, but that’s, I think, what we’re (being) asked to do here.”

But another group of attorneys argued in favor of a separate lower court ruling that struck down a 1997 law giving the State Auditor the authority to prepare financial impact statements for ballot initiatives.

“If the fiscal note’s just wrong, then everybody who reads the fiscal note comes up with the wrong understanding of what the measure does," attorney Marc Ellinger told the High Court.  "I don’t think anybody believes that’s the right process, whether they’re proponents or opponents.”

If the Missouri Supreme Court upholds that opinion it might also result in the three initiatives being left off the November ballot.

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.