Cigarette taxes lose, voter photo ID wins in Missouri

Two ballot measures that would increase cigarette taxes in Missouri failed on Tuesday.
Two ballot measures that would increase cigarette taxes in Missouri failed on Tuesday. skeyser@kcstar.com

Missouri voters sorted through columns of potentially confusing statewide ballot issues Tuesday, sending two taxes on tobacco to defeat. But voters came out in favor of making Missouri a state that requires a photo ID to vote.

Voters also chose to place a ban on taxes on any new state and local services. They restored limits on campaign contributions and renewed the state’s parks and conservation tax.

Tobacco tax

This was the fourth time since 2002 that a campaign took a shot at increasing Missouri’s lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax, and this go-round there were two.

After all the noise, Missouri’s tax on cigarettes withstood its latest challenge, with the state’s 17-cents-a-pack tax rate surviving again. The national average is $1.65 a pack.

All of the attention was on Amendment 3, which began as a campaign to raise more than $300 million for early childhood health and education, but devolved into a tug-of-war between Big Tobacco and Little Tobacco, and was disfavored by major health and anti-tobacco institutions. Voters rejected the measure, 59 percent to 41 percent.

“Missouri voters made a decision that they prefer cheap cigarettes over kids,” said Linda Rallo of the Raise Your Hand for Kids campaign for the amendment.

But opponents say most Missourians did not want to support taxes that were favored by the tobacco companies.

“Clearly voters were not fooled by those who profit from cigarette sales,” said Stacy Reliford, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

The American Cancer Society, the Health Foundation of Greater Kansas City and several other anti-smoking interests had come out against Amendment 3, saying its plan to impose a 60-cents-a-pack increase over four years was not enough to deter smoking. They argued it would only chill future attempts to increase the tax.

With little funding support, the Raise Your Hand for Kids campaign for Amendment 3 gathered the support of Big Tobacco when it included language in the ballot issue that would add an “equity fee” on small tobacco companies’ sales. Those non-name brands have been exempt in Missouri from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement that settled Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry.

That wasn’t the only complication. The campaign for Amendment 3 also added language that declared that none of the new tax revenue could go to stem cell research or abortion services. This was meant to head off the threat that campaigns against the tax would stoke fear in the anti-abortion community, but the extra language ended up bringing opposition from major medical and biological research institutions.

Proposition A was actually just another attack on Amendment 3’s campaign. The small tobacco companies and convenience stores got the measure on the ballot, proposing a 23-cents-a-pack increase to fund transportation projects. But the forces behind Proposition A spent all of their campaign resources fighting Amendment 3.

Proposition A failed with 45 percent of the vote.

Voter ID

Missourians will need to provide a government-issued photo ID in future elections.

Amendment 6 won by a vote of 65 percent to 35 percent.

Missouri joins seven other states, including Kansas, that impose a strict policy of requiring a photo ID to be allowed to vote.

Voter ID issues have generally split along partisan lines throughout the nation, with Republicans saying the measures reduce voter fraud while Democrats say the measures are meant to suppress votes among low-income, transient, minority and elderly people who tend to be more likely to vote Democratic.

“The right to vote is sacred,” said the Rev. Cassandra Gould, a Jefferson City pastor who had helped lead the unsuccessful effort to defeat the amendment. “There is a clear bifurcation in the state and in the nation … (and) I am further dismayed.”

The partisan lines were clearly drawn in September when the Republican-led Missouri General Assembly beat a Democratic filibuster and overrode a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon to get the measure on the ballot.

The measure will require voters to present a photo ID issued either by the state, the federal government or the U.S. military. A voter without ID would still be able to vote by signing an affidavit.

Campaign contributions

Voters strongly favored restoring limits on campaign contributions in Missouri.

Amendment 2 won with 70 percent of the vote, signaling an end to the unfettered flow of campaign dollars that has marked Missouri politics since 2008.

Under Amendment 2, individuals will be limited in each election cycle to contributions of $2,600 to candidates and $25,000 to a political party. The amendment also blocks direct donations from corporations or labor unions, and stops political action committees from moving funds between organizations to hide the original sources of the money.

Voters had initially invoked campaign contribution limits in 1994, but they were undone by the legislature in 2008.

Supporters of contribution limits argued that elections have been taken over by powerful big spenders who cast shadows over legislative policy.

Critics of the amendment said campaign contributions are a form of free speech and that squelching contributions could actually lead large donors and special interest groups to route contributions through other channels that are less transparent.

Sales taxes

Amendment 4 passed with 57 percent of the vote, meaning state and local entities will not be able to levy taxes tomorrow on any services not already taxed today.

Amendment 4 will still allow state and local entities to seek increases on taxes on services already being taxed.

But anything that was not taxed as of Jan. 1, 2015, cannot be taxed in the future.

Many local governments argued against the prohibition, saying it would hamstring their ability to support services during uncertain economic times in a rapidly changing, technological world.

Supporters wanted to curb more taxes on services, which they say tend to be regressive taxes that fall disproportionately on people who are less able to afford them.

Parks and conservation

Voters overwhelmingly decided to renew the state’s 0.1 percent sales tax in support of state parks and soil and water conservation.

The measure, which received 80 percent of the vote, will continue the tax for 10 more years. It has been in place since 1984, now generating about $90 million a year.