February 14, 2016

Petroleum Marketers, Columbia representative debate Prop B

Opponents and proponents of a tobacco tax hike on the November ballot are making their cases to voters.

Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association Executive Director Ron Leone (left) and Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) debate Proposition B in a forum hosted by the Missouri Student Association.

Proponents of Proposition B say it would generate an estimated 283 million dollars for education and smoking cessation programs, by raising taxes on tobacco products.

Executive Director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, Ron Leone, opposes Proposition B. He argues there is no guarantee any additional money raised would go to education.

“While this will in fact put more money into the kitty, that’s no guarantee that current appropriations won’t be reduced by the same amount. So when you have … let’s say this generates $100 million dollars for higher ed, let’s just use that as an example … There’s no guarantee that $100 million dollars of current appropriations won’t be appropriated somewhere else to some other use or purpose.”

Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) argues in favor of B, and says no education dollars will be shifted elsewhere in the budget any time soon. “There is absolutely nobody in the generally assembly who is going to supplant any current general revenue dollar in higher education, or in elementary and secondary education. It will be almost impossible to get that done, politically, because they overwhelmingly understand the problem and Democrats and Republicans alike will all oppose it.”

Leone says his organization supported legislation in the last session that would have raised tobacco taxes to a lesser amount, but it did not pass. He says Proposition B raises those taxes too much. “Can you imagine if we were having this discussion about anything else? Whether it was alcohol, whether it was clothing, income tax, business tax, can you imagine somebody standing up here and saying forty-six percent is too low? Thirty-seven percent is too low, and we need to raise it another 760 percent?”

Kelly says those comparisons don’t work. “I wouldn’t compare tobacco to any other product. I would compare it to any other poison. If you’re going to talk about ingestible poisons, I think you can make a reasonable argument that you ought to tax it them different than, for instance, potatoes.”

Kelly notes the tax on tobacco in Missouri is lower than that of any other state in the nation. Leone says comparing Missouri’s tax to all others doesn’t make sense. “It’s skewed high when you look at New York which is like four bucks a pack. The only relevant discussion we’re having here is our competitiveness with our border states.

“This will unequivocally, it’s math, it’s arithmetic, it will take us to a disadvantage with four of our eight border states. That is not a good idea for the economy, that’s not a good idea for small businesses, it’s not a good idea for jobs.”