October 7, 2015

Dueling petition efforts seek to raise Missouri cigarette tax

Two groups want to put a cigarette tax increase on the November 2016 ballot. The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (MPCA) has filed two initiative petitions to raise the tax by 23 cents per pack to support the state’s general revenue fund and to help finance Missouri’s roads and bridges. “Raise Your Hands For Kids” has filed an initiative petition to increase the tax by 50 cents per pack to help fund early childhood education and health screenings for infants and young children.

Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association

Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association

MPCA Executive Director Ron Leone said the Association, which opposed a cigarette tax hike proposal in 2013, is trying to be one step ahead of any other campaigns targeting a cigarette tax increase.

“We’re pretty sick and tired of always being on defense and always trying to oppose initiative petitions. So we wanted to, for a change, take control of our fate and go on offense,” said Leone.

“We obviously firmly believe that the people would in fact support a reasonable tax increase that doesn’t hurt consumers too bad, maintains the competitive advantage we have over our higher-tax border states and uses the money to help fund a state priority, which in this case would be transportation.”

Leone said the increase would generate about $80-$100 million annually. He said the money isn’t going to solve Missouri’s transportation issues, but it will help.

“Raise Your Hands For Kids” Board Chairperson Erin Brower said Missouri needs to do more for early childhood development.

Raise Your Hands For Kids

Raise Your Hands For Kids

“Right now, Missouri is ranked 49th for childcare subsidies. Out of 40 states with state-funded preschool, Missouri is 38th,” said Brower. “Really, we just don’t treat early childhood development as a priority in our state. So that’s why we look at the tobacco tax as a dedicated funding stream for something we know is the best economic development choice our state could make.”

Brower says the increase would generate about $225 million annually. She also said the additional revenue wouldn’t fix the state’s early childhood development problems, but she said the money would make an impact and leverage other public and private funding opportunities.

Missouri’s cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation, at 17 cents per pack.

Brunner hopes to stand out against other candidates for Missouri governor

John Brunner is officially in. He is the fifth Republican to announce he is running for Missouri governor.

John Brunner (campaign video capture)

John Brunner (campaign video capture)

Brunner is a former U.S. Marine and promotes himself as a political outsider. At least one of his opponents in the Republican primary race, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, can make the same claims.

Brunner, though, says he’s more focused on illustrating the differences between himself and the lone Democratic candidate, Attorney General Chris Koster, than the contrast between himself and the other GOP challengers.

“You have a contrast between a trial lawyer versus a person that’s been in business and manufacturing for decades, a politician versus a Marine,” said Brunner.

Brunner spent about $8-million of his own dollars in the 2012 race for the U.S. Senate, in which he lost the nomination to former U.S. Representative Todd Akin. Brunner told Missourinet his gubernatorial campaign won’t run out of money, but he has supporters other than himself.

“This will be a team effort across the state,” said Brunner. “Now that I’ve declared and now that the contrast between me and Chris Koster will be made clear, we believe that we’ll be able to do a great job raising the funds we need to be able to win this race.”

Brunner, like other candidates, is also touting ethics reform, calling it an issue he was willing to pursue on his own as governor if the state legislature fails to send him a proposal.

“Folks across the state don’t think a lot of Jefferson City and that’s unfortunate, but we can change that,” said Brunner. “All the expenditures and travel junkets and all of those things that are going on in Jefferson City, and I’ll ban all the gifts and these golf trips to Vegas.”

Brunner said he would pursue an ethics reform ballot issue if he legislature doesn’t propose reforms.

State legislative leaders have said an ethics reform bill will be a priority again in the 2016 legislative session.

Brunner also said “right-to-work” will become law if he becomes governor, “along with 1,000 other good things that make our state more competitive. There is no one, single issue.”

It is likely that the next governor will also inherit the lowest paid, or close to it, state employee workforce in the nation. Brunner says a long-term solution is needed.

“Let’s take what’s happened today. All of a sudden there’s 300-million of funds. ‘Well we need to scramble and see what we can do for state employees.’ This is not the way to treat people. You need a plan. You need to have a personnel plan and to have competent people in charge to be sure that wages and benefits and all are comparable to what’s provided in the private sector as well.”

He said he’s also concerned about teacher pay.

“New Teachers are paid 47th in the country. If we’re going to have the right division and set the right priorities, why are new teachers’ salaries 47th?”

Brunner is challenging former U.S. Attorney and Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, Springfield state senator Bob Dixon, and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens.

Brunner actually kicked off his campaign Sunday night in front of about 200 supporters in St. Louis.


Brunner formalizes run for Missouri governor making fifth Republican in

A fifth Republican has made official that he is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2015.

John Brunner (courtesy of his campaign)

John Brunner (from a campaign video)

John Brunner is a former U.S. Marine and former CEO of the Vi-Jon Inc., a hand sanitizer maker. He ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012 in a campaign he largely self-funded. He lost that bid to Todd Akin.

Brunner is promoting himself as a political outsider and successful businessman that will support job growth, ethics reform, and would enact “right-to-work.”

Brunner makes the fifth Republican candidate in the race to challenge Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster for governor in 2016. The others are former U.S. Attorney and Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, Springfield state senator Bob Dixon, and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens.

Brunner actually kicked off his campaign Sunday night in front of about 200 supporters in St. Louis.

Identities of more men killed in 1952 plane crash said to be coming soon – families, including Missourians, still frustrated by delay

A military medical examiner says more identities of men killed in a 1952 military plane crash in Alaska should be released to families as early as this week. This, after months of waiting by the families of those men for remains retrieved in June, 2014, to be examined.

Air Force Airman 3rd Class Wayne Dean Jackson of Downing (left) and Army Technical Sergeant Leonard George Unger of Gerald

Air Force Airman 3rd Class Wayne Dean Jackson of Downing (left) and Army Technical Sergeant Leonard George Unger of Gerald

Two Department of Defense agencies say an e-mail that said identities were known in March and not released to families was not accurate.

The wreckage of the C-124 Globemaster was rediscovered in 2012 and efforts to recover remains began the next year. It was announced in June, 2014, that remains recovered in 2013 were identified as belonging to 17 of those men and those were returned to families for burial.

Identities of men whose remains were recovered in 2014 have not been released, however, and families believe based on the time it took to identify those from 2013 that enough time has passed for the 2014 remains to be done.

Two of the men on that plane whose remains have not been identified were from Missouri: Army Technical Sergeant Leonard George Unger of Gerald, in east-central Missouri, and Air Force Airman 3rd Class Wayne Dean Jackson of Downing, in northeast Missouri. A third man, Private Robert Dale Card originally of Kansas, has a brother and other family living near Springfield.  Those families have told Missourinet they are anxious to see their loved ones returned home.

Representatives of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES) based in Dover, Delaware, and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), tell Missourinet the delay was the result of changes in who was responsible for oversight of those remains.

A change in jurisdiction

Colonel Ladd Tremaine is the Armed Forces Medical Examiner. He said before March 2015, the agency formerly called the Joint POW/MIAA Accounting Command was working to identify those remains when it was found it didn’t have legal jurisdiction because the crash didn’t happen in a zone of conflict.

That jurisdiction, he said, fell first to the State of Alaska, who relinquished it to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System.

The wreckage site of the C-124 Globemaster is only accessible by helicopter. (photo courtesy; (Photos courtesy; U.S. Air Force photos/Tech. Sgt. John S. Gordinier John S. Gordinier)

The wreckage site of the C-124 Globemaster is only accessible by helicopter for about two weeks a year, in June.  It has been carried by the Colony Glacier some 16 kilometers from Mount Gannett where the crash occurred.  The glacier is slowly pushing into Lake George, where the remains and wreckage embedded in it could be lost.  (photo courtesy; (Photos courtesy; U.S. Air Force photos/Tech. Sgt. John S. Gordinier John S. Gordinier)

Tremaine says what began then was the cataloging of remains and the military transfer of those and thousands of pages of documentation from Hawaii to Dover. The remains arrived in Dover in August, and then the work that had been done by DPAA had to be translated to the procedures used by AFMES.

“Nobody put a stop to the identification process,” said Tremain.

He said that work is nearly complete with some of what was recovered in 2014, and some families are expected to be notified this week that remains of their loved ones have been identified.

Have identities been withheld during the transition?

A recent report by the Alaska Dispatch News quoted an e-mail from Lieutenant Colonel Holly Slaughter with DPAA’s Public Affairs office saying by March of this year, “new identifications were available, but due to the jurisdictional change, the identifications of the remains were deferred for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner (AFME) to make.”

Doctor John Byrd, Laboratory Director at the DPAA lab in Hawaii, agrees with Tremaine that the identifications were not ready in March as the e-mail stated.

“The DNA results were coming in and our scientists in the lab here were evaluating those. We were very close to being prepared to make identifications at the time that the decision was made that the jurisdiction should be transferred over, and so we had not made identifications yet,” said Byrd.

Frustration and anger for families awaiting word on loved ones

Byrd said despite the transition, DNA testing was always done at the same lab.

That is part of the frustration for Tonja Anderson-Dell, a Florida woman whose grandfather, Airman Isaac W. Anderson Sr., was one of the men on that plane. She has kept in contact with the families of the other men on that plane and has worked with and pressed the military for recovery of remains.

She told Missourinet she believes since the testing was all done in the same location, the length of time it took to identify remains should not have been increased by several months. She also questions why the military did not seek a retraction of the Alaska Dispatch story if the report that identifications had been ready in March, but not released, was incorrect.

Anderson says she’s talked to Tremaine in the past week.

A C-124 Globemaster II (courtesy; Wikipedia commons)

A C-124 Globemaster II (courtesy; Wikipedia commons)

“He’s asked that I give them a chance … to fix it. I’m hoping that giving them a chance to fix it, that they’ll fix this and get it right and get these identifications done for 2014 and moving forward, correctly,” said Anderson.

Anderson and other family members’ concerns are amplified because many members of those families are aging. Some have already died knowing that the plane had been found, but not knowing if his or her loved one had been identified.

Tremaine said getting identifications to families as quickly as possible is, “a paramount concern … but we can’t compromise accuracy.” He added, “We couldn’t start out process until we got physical custody of the remains and we did not get physical custody of the remains until August.”

Byrd says he doesn’t believe anything could have been done differently or more quickly.

“I would not tell a family member that I thought that anything had been dropped or that was lax or should have been done differently,” said Byrd. “We regret that this has taken so long for the families. I know that it was painful enough to have lost their loved ones back in the day and any delay I’m sure is very disheartening, but what I would say is that everybody involved in this is trying to do the best job possible.”

Tremaine said his staff probably should have contacted the families of those men on the flight and explained to them the transition that was taking place and why.

“I should have thought about the families and should have reached out to them and explained that to them,” said Tremaine.

Additional remains from the Alaskan crash site were recovered in June of this year, and Tremaine says identifications from those remains could be released to families as early as February.

Anderson-Dell has reached out several times to members of Congress, including Senator McCaskill, asking them to get involved.

Report: Greitens claim to outpace opponents in Missouri support is untrue

A candidate’s claim to have more Missouri donors sending him more money than any of his opponents has been challenged.

Eric Greitens

Eric Greitens

Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens has received more than half his campaign funding from out-of-state donors. That’s a source of criticism by some of his opponents in the race for the Republican nomination.

Greitens responded by saying he’s got more donors in Missouri and has raised more money from in Missouri than his opponents.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that’s not true, saying 34-percent of Greitens funds come from 112 in-state donations compared to 96-percent from 485 donations for Catherine Hanaway.

Greitens’ campaign hasn’t answered the report.