Cigarette tax loss hurts Missouri in long run
The Kansas City Star
The dispiriting defeat of Proposition B on Tuesday leaves Missouri with the nation’s lowest cigarette tax, a high incidence of costly smoking-related illnesses and too few dollars for schools, universities and other services.
The ballot initiative to raise the tax on tobacco products failed by about 42,000 votes.
Its defeat was helped along by misleading claims from opponents, who exaggerated the amount of the tax increase and falsely linked the measure to “Obamacare.”
It was the third time Missouri voters narrowly defeated a higher tobacco tax , leaving health, education and business advocates wondering what to do next.
Ron Leone, who led the opposition as executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, has said his group may be open to doubling Missouri’s 17-cents-a-pack cigarette tax.
But a state legislature dominated by tax-averse Republicans isn’t likely to put any increase on the ballot.
And the many groups that initiated and funded Proposition B might not summon the energy for another statewide initiative anytime soon.
In any case, doubling the tax would still leave Missouri with the second lowest cigarette tax (Virginia’s is 30 cents a pack), and with insufficient revenue to properly finance education and other basic services.
Proposition B also promised to address a glitch in state law that gives a large, unfair pricing advantage to manufacturers of off-brand cigarettes.
If nothing else, legislative leaders must act on the advice of Attorney General Chris Koster and close the loophole favoring small cigarette manufacturers before it costs the state millions in legal costs and penalties.
Koster was one of the few statewide officials with the courage to endorse Proposition B. Missouri shouldn’t be spending $532 million a year in Medicaid costs to subsidize people’s smoking habits, he correctly noted.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and Republican legislative leaders unfortunately refused to back the initiative, claiming Missouri can’t afford a tax increase.
The truth is, Missouri couldn’t afford not to raise its cigarette tax. But now that it has, the onus falls on Nixon and the legislature to explain what the state must do without so that smokers can purchase cigarettes with a puny tax of 17 cents a pack.