Missouri voters face a slew of important constitutional amendments and a proposition when they go to the polls on Nov. 8.
Here are The Star’s recommendations, starting with two controversial cigarette tax increases.
▪ Vote no on Constitutional Amendment 3.
TV ads have started promoting this amendment, which ostensibly would raise Missouri’s lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax to create an Early Childhood Health and Education Fund. When fully put in place, it would bring in additional revenue to state government of $263 million to $374 million annually.
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Missouri now imposes a tobacco tax of 17 cents a pack. In stages this amendment would increase cigarette taxes 60 cents a pack. Who would not want to increase taxes on cigarettes to decrease tobacco use, provide health boosts for those who reduce or quit smoking, and boost early childhood health treatments?
If only it were that simple. The measure is being bankrolled by the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. It is being opposed by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and other health groups.
These groups know that this amendment concocted in Big Tobacco’s boardrooms is crafted to increase the industry’s profits. They know that there are provisions in this amendment — such as ones involving abortion and stem-cell research — that would throw this issue into the courts for many years to come delaying or preventing any funding to go to early childhood health.
If this amendment were what it pretends to be on the surface, we would back it gladly. It is not what it pretends to be.
▪ Vote no on Proposition A.
This proposed cigarette tax increase is another bait-and-switch routine. It calls for increased taxes in stages up to 23 cents a pack. Proceeds estimated between $95 million and $103 million annually would be earmarked for transportation infrastructure. This one is being backed by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Operators Association.
They vigorously oppose the higher cigarette tax in Amendment 3 and claim they really want to help pay for roads and bridges. Really? This group has opposed transportation measures that would have increased Missouri’s ultra-low gas taxes for roads.
Ballot language shows this measure would repeal higher taxes approved as authorized by this proposition “if a measure to increase any tax or fee on cigarettes or other tobacco products is certified to appear on any local or statewide ballot.”
This measure is a sham. Missouri voters do need to approve higher funding for transportation, but this proposition is many miles from that.
▪ Constitutional Amendment 1 should be approved.
A yes vote would continue for 10 years the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax that is used for soil and water conservation and for state parks and historic sites. It would not increase taxes and would be subject to another vote in 10 years.
Even the most rigid opponent of taxes should acknowledge that this tax has been highly beneficial to Missouri citizens. Prior to the tax’s first approval in 1984 Missouri had the second-highest rate of erosion in the nation. Over the last 30 years water and soil conservation programs have kept more than 177 million tons of soil from escaping into waterways.
The tax is the primary source of funding for Missouri’s award-winning parks and historic sites. Their other funding comes from fees and permits. This dedicated conservation and parks tax is a model for the country. Missouri deserves to keep it.
▪ According to the latest reports, businessmen Rex Sinquefield and David Humphreys already have contributed more than $24 million between them in this election cycle to bankroll candidates who support their causes.
Missourians voted in 1994 to establish campaign contribution limits, but the GOP-led General Assembly tossed out contribution limits in 2008.
It is past time for that wrongheaded decision to be reversed. There is no way to justify permitting any individual or organization to invest such exorbitant sums in one candidate or issue. This kind of obscene exercise makes even the most ethical candidate open to the threat of ignoring ordinary citizens to respond to a constituent of one.
Voters should vote yes for Constitutional Amendment 2. It would cap donations to candidates at $2,600 per election and to political parties at $25,000. It also would prevent individuals and entities from intentionally concealing the source of such contributions.
▪ Constitutional Amendment 4 merits a no vote.
It would prohibit a new state or local sales or similar tax on services or transaction that was not subject to such a tax on Jan. 1, 2015.
However, this amendment would unjustifiably cripple local governments’ ability to approve targeted sales taxes for specific needs.
▪ Vote no on Constitutional Amendment 6.
This measure would require voters to verify their identity, citizenship and residence by presenting identification that could include a valid government-issued photo identification.
While billed as a move to prevent voter fraud, the measure would have the effect of disenfranchising seniors, minorities and persons with disabilities many of whom do not possess current photo IDs. Efforts to eliminate fraud should focus on issues such as the absentee ballot scandal that occurred in St. Louis during the Aug. 2 primary.