Proponents of raising Missouri’s lowest-in-the-nation cigarette taxes submitted petitions Saturday in hopes of getting the constitutional amendment on the November ballot, saying the revenue would help fund early childhood education and health care causes.
Raise Your Hand for Kids said it turned in more than 320,000 signatures to Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander’s office, which has until Aug. 9 to certify whether that petition and others filed by Sunday’s 5 p.m. deadline have enough valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot.
Stephanie Fleming, a Kander spokeswoman, confirmed to the Associated Press that the cigarette-tax petitions were submitted, though she was unaware of the number of signatures they contained.
In a state where the cigarette tax is 17 cents, compared to the national average of $1.61, the proposed constitutional amendment seeks to phase in a 60-cent-per-pack increase from 2017 to 2020. The added revenue largely would go to early childhood education programs, with smaller portions going to early childhood health programs and anti-smoking programs for youth and pregnant women.
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The measure, which also would impose an additional 67-cent-per-pack tax on smokes from tobacco companies that didn’t participate in the 1998 settlement involving Missouri and 45 other states, is projected to generate $263 million to $374 million a year if fully implemented.
More than $2.2 million, most of the group’s funding, has come from Reynolds American Inc., the parent company of such brands as Camel, Newport and Pall Mall cigarettes.
“Voters across the state want common-sense solutions that will increase quality and access for early childhood development programs in the Show-Me State,” Linda Rallo, Raise Your Hand for Kids’ executive director, said in a statement. “Families across Missouri understand that to move our state forward, we must make our youngest citizens a priority.”
The Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association and the Missouri Association of Rural Education oppose the tobacco tax initiative, pointing to, among other things, the campaign’s funding from cigarette makers.
“It seems unusual that Big Tobacco would support a tobacco tax,” the rural education group said in a statement. “It makes more sense, however, when it is understood that (Raise Your Hands for Kids) ALSO includes language to help major tobacco brands drive up the price of their low-cost competitors.”
Constitutional amendments require signatures equaling 8 percent of the number of people who voted in the 2012 gubernatorial election in six of the state’s eight congressional districts – a total ranging from nearly 158,000 to almost 168,000 signatures, depending on which districts are targeted.
Saturday’s initiative petition was at least the second to be submitted for voters to consider in November.
On Wednesday, supporters of campaign contribution limits said they turned in more than 272,000 petition signatures to try to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that would re-impose limits on the large amounts of money flowing to political candidates and committees. Missouri currently has no limits on political giving.