A ruling’s expected soon on one of two initiative scheduled for a public vote which would raise cigarette taxes.
Opponents of what would appear on the ballot as “Constitutional Amendment 3” say signatures required to place the measure before voters should be disqualified because its language was changed after those signatures were gathered.
One of their attorneys, Chuck Hatfield, contends requirements for placing an initiative on the ballot weren’t followed. “People were misled into signing a petition” said Hatfield. “”We don’t think that should be the case when 235,000 people were misled into signing, you don’t say ‘Well it doesn’t matter. Let’s stick it on the ballot and see what happens’, which seems to be what the proponents are arguing.”
Five words were added to the initiative specifying that certain cigarette tax would increase every year.
Jack Cardetti, who represents the measure’s proponents, says that language was detailed in the full document circulated for signatures. “When you’re asked to sign something, you have both the summary and the entire language. (It’s) just like when voters go and vote in November, they’ll have the new ballot summary that has five new words in it, along with the entire ballot summary”.
Money from the cigarette tax would go toward early childhood programs. But more interests appear to be involved in getting the initiative passed.
Tobacco giant Reynold’s American gave several million dollars to the group backing the proposal, Raise Your Hand for Kids.
The way the initiative is drawn up, major brand cigarette cigarettes would have a 60 cents tax increase while smaller brands would see hike of $1.27, which would escalate every year.
Ron Leone with the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which opposes the initiative, says big tobacco companies are financing the proposal because it favors them. “If this passes, it helps to reduce the competition that they’re feeling from the value brand cigarettes.”
A number of large medical groups such as the American Heart Association also oppose the proposal, stating the tax increase would be too small. Missouri currently has nation’s lowest cigarette tax at 17 cents a pack. Education officials in the state have also come out against the initiative.
A circuit court in Jefferson City’s expected to make a decision on the proposal early next week. Both sides say they’ll appeal an unfavorable ruling. The case is expected to ultimately be decided by the Missouri Supreme Court.