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Bus tour supporting tobacco tax increase rolls into Cape Girardeau
Supporters of a November ballot initiative that would dramatically increase Missouri's tobacco tax -- the lowest in the nation -- brought their bus tour to Cape Girardeau to stump for the measure Tuesday.
The Proposition B Bus Tour, sponsored by the Jefferson City, Mo.-based organization Show-Me A Brighter Future, made a stop at Capaha Park to rally support for the tax increase that supporters say will mean a windfall for Missouri education.
Misty Snodgrass, spokeswoman for Show-Me A Brighter Future, said the new tax revenue would mean significant funding for area colleges and schools, citing the organization's own projections.
"The projections we have, based on average daily attendance, show that the Cape Girardeau School District would receive almost $618,000 per year in new funding," Snodgrass said. "Jackson would receive about $717,000. Southeast Missouri State University would receive $4.3 million, and Three Rivers Community College would get $430,000. This is money that is long overdue to these institutions because of smokers who have diverted funds from education to pay for health care costs."
Snodgrass cited projections of anywhere from $280 million to $435 million annually coming in from the tax, making the exact amount local institutions will get far from certain.
Snodgrass said Proposition B seeks to raise taxes on cigarettes sold in Missouri to 90 cents per pack from the current level of 17 cents. It also seeks a new tax for roll-your-own tobacco at 25 percent of the manufacturer's invoice price and a rate of 15 percent for cigars and other tobacco products. Fifty percent of the money would go to public schools, 30 percent to higher education and 20 percent to smoking prevention and cessation programs.
"It's time for smokers to contribute their fair share," Snodgrass said. "The annual health care costs in Missouri that are the direct result of smoking comes to nearly $2.13 billion. Medicaid costs, funded by the taxpayers, comes to nearly $532 million. This modest tax increase, which will still leave Missouri in the bottom-third of nationwide cigarette taxes, is desperately needed in school districts around the state. With education funding being eaten up by rising Medicaid costs caused in large part by smokers, the right thing for voters to do is to approve Proposition B."
Darah Jirkovsky, director of the American Lung Association in Jackson, said that Missouri's tight education budget has led to larger classrooms.
"In 2010, eight out of 10 schools in the state had to cut their budgets, which led to over 2,000 teachers being let go," Jirkovsky said. "The result was larger classrooms and teachers strained to the limit. Proposition B won't cure all of the ills, but the new revenue can bring some of those teachers back."
Tonya Kinder of Jackson, who was present in Capaha Park to listen to the speakers, said that it is very important for Proposition B to be passed.
"I believe that for smokers, a new tax rate will be an incentive for them to quit," Kinder said. "Less smoking means a better environment and healthier children. I just hope the money goes to where it's needed most."
The statewide tour, which began last week, has made stops in more than 20 Missouri cities and towns and will conclude later this week in Poplar Bluff and Kennett. Roy Temple, liberal Missouri politics blogger and campaign director for Proposition B, said he's confident that the tour will be a deciding factor when voters go to the polls in November.
"Two similar measures have lost by extremely close margins in the past," Temple said, "but they were geared to Medicaid funding, not education. When you think of all the money education needs right now, I don't think Missourians will give smokers a pass this time."
A public-opinion poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in late August showed Proposition B leading among voters at 47 percent to 38 percent opposed, with 14 percent undecided.
But the ballot initiative isn't supported by Democrat Jay Nixon or his challenger Republican Dave Spence in the race for governor, and local legislator Wayne Wallingford, a Republican who currently represents Cape Girardeau in the state House and will represent the area in the redrawn 27th Senate District next session, is also opposed to Proposition B. Many conservative say this isn't the time for a tax increase as the sluggish economic recovery continues, even on something like smoking.
And during Tuesday's rally in Capaha Park, opposition to the measure was made known by a truck that pulled a large sign that read, "Enough is Enough, Vote No on Proposition B," while it circled the park during the speaker's presentations.
Capaha Park, Cape Girardeau, Mo.