Missouri Supreme Court rejects opposition to ballot measures

Ballot initiatives limiting interest rates charged for payday loans, raising the state’s minimum wage and increasing the cigarette tax cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the language and cost estimates for the measures on the November ballot were “fair and sufficient.”

The decision on whether the initiatives will appear on the ballot is now in the hands of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who has until Tuesday to determine whether supporters submitted enough petition signatures of registered voters.

“Today’s ruling is great news for the 350,000 Missourians who signed petitions to cap the rate on payday loans and raise our minimum wage,” said the Rev. James Bryan, treasurer for Missourians for Responsible Lending, the organization leading the effort to place interest rate caps on the ballot.

“The payday lenders and corporate special interests have tried everything in the book to silence Missourians and keep these petitions off the ballot — unsuccessfully. We are happy to put this very long legal process behind us,” Bryan added.

However, the organization opposing the payday loan ballot measure, dubbed Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity, released a statement Tuesday alleging “rampant signature improprieties” that could lead to the measure being thrown out by Carnahan.

In its ruling, the court also determined that the state auditor has the constitutional authority to analyze the fiscal impact of ballot initiatives. The auditor has prepared fiscal notes for ballot measures since 1997, but earlier this year judges in the Cole County Circuit Court issued conflicting rulings about whether or not the auditor had the authority to do so.

“We appreciate the Court’s thoughtful ruling that recognizes the constitutionality of our role in preparing fiscal notes and fiscal note summaries for initiative petitions,” Auditor Tom Schweich said in a statement. “This time-tested duty has given voters valuable information from both sides of an issue, so they can make informed decisions at the polls.”

The payday lending initiative seeks to institute a 36 percent interest rate cap on short-term loans. The minimum wage initiative seeks to increase the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 per hour. The cigarette tax initiative proposes additional taxes on cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and other tobacco products to create proceeds for a health and education trust fund.