State ballot issues discussed at Friday business event

Sunday, November 4, 2012

While races for president, senate and governor have garnered the most attention this election cycle, voters will be asked to cast ballots on four statewide ballot issues as well.

They were the focus of a presentation by Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce's First Friday Coffee at the Show Me Center.

The Missouri Secretary of State's office is predicting the state's voter turnout to be as high as 72 percent.

"We had several races in the last [general] election that came down to less than 100 votes," King said. "In the primary, we had one race in southwest Missouri that came down to 18 votes. Your vote is very important come Tuesday."

The Missouri chamber has not taken a position on any of the statewide issues on Tuesday's ballot. King said she was there to inform, not persuade.

The ballot issue that's received the most attention is Proposition B, a proposal to increase Missouri's tobacco tax from 17 cents per pack to 90 cents per pack. The money generated from this tax -- estimated to be between $238 and $423 million yearly -- will be divided among tobacco use prevention and quitting assistance programs, higher education and public elementary and secondary schools.

It also closes what some see as a loophole by requiring smaller tobacco product manufacturers and wholesalers to pay into the master tobacco settlement.

"I can tell you the business community is split on this issue," King said. "Big tobacco likes the provision about the settlement, so they're not throwing a bunch of money at fighting it."

The state's convenience stores have been campaigning against it, saying the jump represents a more than 700 percent tax increase. Others argue that there is no guarantee the money will go to education as laid out in the ballot language because it still must be appropriated by the state legislature, she said.

When Missouri's Athletes and Entertainers income tax was implemented in 1994, 60 percent of those funds were supposed to go to a Missouri Arts Trust fund, but that fund gets only a minuscule amount of cash from the tax now, King said.

Opponents of Proposition B have raised about $200,000 in campaign contributions, all of which has already been spent, King said. Supporters have raised about $1.4 million, with about $50,000 left to spend between now and Tuesday.

Constitutional Amendment 3, which modifies the composition of the state's appellate judicial commission and selection process for judges on the Missouri Supreme Court and appeals courts is also on Tuesday's ballot.

If approved, this amendment will give the governor increased authority to appoint a majority of the commission that selects court nominees.

Supporters of the measure, a group known as Missourians for Better Courts, lost a legal battle over objections to the ballot language and have abandoned the measure.

"Supporters have given up on this [ballot] issue, but regardless of what happens Tuesday, they plan to go back to the General Assembly to try to get it changed," King said. The Amendment 3 opposition group, Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, has raised more than $1 million to ensure voters understand what the amendment means from their perspective, King said.

While Proposition A, which allows the city of St. Louis to transfer control of the city's police force from the board of police commissioners to the city, affects the city of St. Louis primarily, the entire state must vote on it, King said.

"At some point in history, the state felt the city could not run its police force so they set up the commission to run it," she said. This goes back to the Civil War-era. The city of St. Louis funds its own police force, but a state commission oversees how those funds are spent. This proposition would turn the control of things like the police budget and pension plans back over to the city. The tea party opposes the proposition, but there is a long list of St. Louis organizations and businesses that support it, she said.

Proposition E would amend Missouri law to prohibit the governor or any state agency from establishing or operating a state-based health insurance exchange unless authorized by a vote of the people or by the legislature. States are required to set up health insurance exchanges, which would allow people to shop for insurance through an online marketplace, under the federal health care reform act passed in 2010.

"There are arguments going on nationally, the American Legislative Exchange group says if you don't do the exchange, then you can opt out of Obamacare," she said. "There are technical provisions that say if you don't do the exchange, you can't uphold the employer mandate. But there are other groups that say that's not accurate and it's not worth taking the risk. If you don't do the exchange, the federal government is going to do the exchange for you."

King said initiative petitions are becoming an increasingly popular tool and often are challenged in court before the language is ever placed on the ballot. In 2004 there were 16 initiative petitions submitted to the Missouri Secretary of State for ballot consideration, but this year, there were 150, she said.

"The number of petitions has grown significantly. The number of lawsuits has grown even more. We had six in 2004, we had over 50 this year. Many of the initiative petitions just didn't make it on the ballot because they couldn't get through the legal framework," she said.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

1333 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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