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One Missouri cigarette tax hike proposal hurt by lack of teachers' union support and judge's ruling

cigarette closeup
G.Arands | Flickr | Creative Commons license

Updated with MNEA decision - One of two ballot initiatives that would increase Missouri’s cigarette tax may be in trouble. A Cole County judge has said the fiscal note on a 60-cent-a-pack proposal overestimates the revenue that would be raised. He has directed the auditor to review the projection, and that would invalidate the petitions turned in by Raise Your Hand for Kids.

The organization has said it will appeal.

The suit was brought by a convenience store owner. A smaller tobacco tax proposal that turned in signatures to be placed on the August or November ballot is sponsored by the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. Its initiative would raise Missouri’s 17-cent-a-pack tax by 23 cents, and the money would go to transportation.

Chuck Hatfield, the plaintiff’s attorney in the case against the Raise Your Hand initiative, says the fiscal note is not the only concerning part of the measure: “It also allows tax dollars to be used for religious or parochial schools, which has been banned in Missouri’s constitution since 1875.”

Raise Your Hand for Kids turned in more than 300,000 signatures earlier this month for its proposed constitutional amendment. Backers say the money used would pay for early-childhood education programs and health services, as well as smoking cessation programs for teens and pregnant women.

Beyond the issues in the suit, the Raise Your Hand initiative touched off controversy over the parochial school issue, a perceived threat to embryonic stem-cell research and an additional tax on small tobacco companies.

Raise Your Hand spokeswoman Linda Rallo earlier told St. Louis Public Radio’s Jo Mannies that the initiative's embryonic stem-cell research restrictions would be only on the new money raised by the tobacco-tax hike.

The initiative also calls for an additional 67-cent-a-pack tax on smaller tobacco companies. Backers say it  would close a loophole that has exempted them from payments required in a 1998 court settlement over the health costs of caring for smokers.

More than 90 percent of the money supporting Raise Your Hands for Kids has come from tobacco giant RJ Reynolds, which acknowledged it sought the additional 67-cent-a-pack tax.

Money for the pro-transportation proposal is coming from a handful of small tobacco companies that would be affected by the 67-cent-a-pack hike. The companies include LPC Inc. of Fenton, Xcaliber International LTD, and Cheyenne International LLC.

Update: On May 25, the Missouri National Education Association (MNEA), a labor union that represents teachers, announced its opposition to the Raise Your Hands for Kids initiative.

"Our concern is not necessarily the public-private partnership," said Mark Jones, MNEA's political director. "It’s the lack of accountability and oversight that would occur in the partnership, particularly with an unelected commission that has very little staff and is made up of volunteers that would be forced to review literally thousands of applications."

But Rallo says there are many precedents for successful public-private partnerships that fall within the law.

"What we’re proposing is something that’s already happening," said Rallo. "...There are a lot of communities in the public school system that aren't able to offer early childhood education. Maybe they don't have a room or a building, so a lot of these schools are forming public-private partnerships, and they're working with organizations like the YMCA to deliver the services. This is just the model that is going to serve the most students possible."

The initiative still has to survive the legal challenge before landing on the November ballot, which has to be finalized by Aug. 9.

Reporting on the initiatives was done earlier by Jo Mannies.

Mallory Daily is an intern at the State Capitol Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. Follow on Twitter: @malreports

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