The Missouri Supreme Court’s upheld a lower bench ruling which allows a cigarette tax ballot initiative to go before voters in November.

Supreme Court of Missouri

Supreme Court of Missouri

In a 7-0 decision, the justices rejected arguments from the measure’s opponents, notably the claim that required signatures should be invalidated because they were gathered before a change was made to the ballot title.  Ballot initiatives require a certain number of signatures before they can go to a public vote.

In writing the Justices’ decision, judge Paul C. Wilson said “The Court rejects Opponents’ argument and holds that there is no clear and unequivocal requirement…prohibiting the Secretary (of State) from counting the signatures Proponents gathered and submitted to him on May 7. In the absence of such a clear and unequivocal requirement, the Court has no occasion to consider whether the effect of such a requirement on Proponents – who bear no fault for the flaw in the January 5 official ballot title identified by the court of appeals on July 15 – unconstitutionally burdens Proponents’ right to seek to amend the Missouri Constitution using the initiative petition process specifically reserved to the people of this state…in the Missouri Constitution”.

Jack Cardetti, who represents the initiatives proponents, thinks it’s a common sense proposal.   “What this petition does is pretty clear” said Cardetti.  “Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation.  This would modestly raise that cigarette tax.  And then they fund early childhood education.”

The court also sided with proponents claims that the proposal doesn’t improperly alter the state constitution, and doesn’t improperly use tax dollars.  As well, the justices said the opponents other challenges were premature because they dealt with the application of the measure after voters had passed it, and it was in operation, not whether it satisfied legal requirements to be put before voters.

The measure’s proponents received several million dollars from tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds.  Ron Leone with the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association says Reynolds backed the proposal because it levy’s a much bigger tax on small brand cigarettes.  “They pass a 67 cent tax that’s just on their little tobacco competition.  (It) doesn’t apply to big tobacco.  And that 67 cents goes up every single year.  It increases automatically by a minimum of 3 percent.” Leone claims the 67 cent increase adds up to a 747% tax increase.  Under the measure, all cigarettes would see a tax hike of 60 cents per pack.

In addition to Missouri Petroleum Marketers, the initiative’s also opposed by the American Cancer Society, the state’s teachers union and some medical groups.

Proponents note Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the country, and argue the money it raises would go to a worthy cause – early childhood education.  The group Raise Your Hand for Kids organized the ballot initiative