Legislative column

On Nov. 8, Missouri voters will take to the polls to elect a new president, new statewide officials, new local representatives and to consider several ballot initiatives, some of which may amend Missouri’s Constitution. I want to take some time to talk about Amendment 3 and Proposition A, both of which seek to raise the cigarette and tobacco tax; and Amendment 1, which allows voters to decide whether or not to continue the parks, soils and water sales tax. To read the official ballot language, please visit the Secretary of State’s website here.

Currently Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation. Many proposals have been brought forward in recent years to raise this tax, yet none have been passed by the Legislature or Missouri voters.

Amendment 3

Amendment 3 would amend the Missouri Constitution to steadily increase taxes on cigarettes until 2020. Missouri’s current tax on cigarettes is 17 cents per pack and the proposed increase would amount to 60 cents per pack, making the total tax on a pack of cigarettes 77 cents. The average state tobacco tax is $1.65. The amendment would also create a 67 cent fee per pack for wholesalers on certain cigarettes, which would certainly be passed on to consumers. The cost of both increases would be $1.27 per pack.

The money generated from the tax increase would create the Early Childhood Health and Education Trust Fund and at least 75 percent of the revenue would be used for early childhood education. This amendment is somewhat controversial because there are passages that mention no funding shall be used for embryonic stem cell research or given to abortion providers, however, some say money could be provided for abortion and stem cell research. I encourage you as a voter to do your homework on this ballot initiative so that you may be fully informed at the ballot box. The increase in revenue is estimated to be between $263 million and $374 million annually. There is no estimate of the financial impact on local governments if the amendment were to pass.

If passed, this amendment to the Missouri Constitution would only be reversible by another vote of the people.

Proposition A

Proposition A also proposes to raise the cigarette tax, however the increase would total 23 cents by 2021, making the tax 40 cents per pack. The proposal also includes a 5 percent tobacco increase on sellers and retailers. The money generated from this increase would be deposited into the Transportation Infrastructure Fund to improve roads and bridges in the state. This increase would be much smaller than the 60 cent increase proposed in Amendment 3.

The estimated increase to general revenue is between $95 million and $103 million annually. On the other hand, local government revenues could decrease by approximately $3 million annually due to fewer cigarette and tobacco sales. This measure would not amend the Missouri constitution, however the change would be reflected in state statute.

Amendment 1

Amendment 1 would allow Missourians to decide if the state should renew the one-tenth of one percent sales and use tax for an additional ten years. The tax is used to support soil and water conservation and fund the state parks and historic sites system. The tax has been in place since 1984, when voters initially approved it. The tax creates revenue of around $90 million each year. Missouri has more than 80 parks and historic sites that benefit from this tax. A yes vote on this Amendment would not be a tax increase, simply a renewal of an already existing tax.

The Missouri State Park system has been ranked as one of the top four state park systems in the nation and is home to 88 state parks and historic sites. The primary source of funding for these parks is the dedicated tax, which would be renewed with a yes vote on Amendment 1. My district is home to Grand Gulf State Park near Thayer in Oregon county, which you may know as the “Little Grand Canyon,” and is one of the natural wonders of the Ozarks. Grand Gulf was declared a national landmark in 1971 and has been part of our state parks system since 1984. Countless visitors come each year to enjoy this beautiful natural formation, spending money in the area and boosting the economy.

As Missourians and as Americans we are given the opportunity to vote on the issues that affect us and the citizens we choose to represent us. I encourage you to be an informed voter and to educate yourself on the ballot measures presented to Missourians this year. Typically the spotlight shines brightest on the candidate races, however, the ballot initiatives are equally as important and can affect the state for decades in the future. I encourage you to visit the Secretary of State’s website for official ballot language and resources to help you come to a thoughtful decision on these issues.

In next week’s column I will address other items on the ballot including voter ID, use taxes and campaign contribution limits.

Mike Cunningham is a Republican member of the Missouri State Senate, representing District 33. Contact him at 573-751-1882 or www.senate.mo.gov/cunningham

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