As heavy rain fell Thursday morning, local proponents of Proposition B, which would raise Missouri's cigarette tax from 17 cents a pack to 90 cents, ducked inside the Nodaway County Courthouse for what was supposed to be an outdoor rally in support of the measure, which goes before voters Nov. 6
Missourians have twice rejected similar proposals, but Misty Snodgrass, an American Heart Association staffer from Jefferson City who helped organize the Maryville event, is hoping for a different outcome this time because the latest initiative would pump between $280 million to $423 million a year into education.
Previous efforts would have earmarked higher cigarette tax revenues for Medicare and hospitals.
In addition, so-called "Big Tobacco," which spent millions of dollars to defeat a similar increase several years ago, is staying out of the fight, likely because Proposition B would eliminate a pricing advantage enjoyed by smaller, off-brand cigarette companies.
On the political front, both Gov. Jay Nixon and Republican Challenger Dave Spence say they don't support the initiative, a nod to the perception that voters struggling amidst a tough economy are hostile to tax increases of any kind.
Missouri's tobacco tax is currently the lowest in the nation. If the proposition passes, 50 percent of the additional revenue is to be earmarked for public schools. Thirty percent would go to higher education and the remaining 20 percent to tobacco cessation programs.
Under Prop B, Missouri's cigarette tax would rank 33rd instead of 50th nationwide. According to the Associated Press, however, the bordering states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Nebraska and Kansas would still have lower tobacco levies, ranging from 60 cents in Kentucky to 79 cents in Kansas.
Proposition B would also place a 25 percent tax on loose tobacco and a 15 percent tax on cigars and other tobacco products.
The Maryville gathering was part of a Show-Me a Brighter Future bus tour that will continue through various cities through next week. Prop B supporters arrived on the square in a large, yellow school bus intended to illustrate the measure's positive fiscal impact on public education.
Maryville R-II Assistant Superintendent Steve Klotz spoke briefly to the small group, members of which waved green-and-white "Yes on Prop B" signs decorated with an outline of the state of Missouri embracing a red heart.
Klotz noted that Maryville schools would likely realize more than $200,000 a year from the tax increase, enough to add about four teachers to the district's faculty. He added that a higher tax on cigarettes and tobacco products would discourage young people from smoking.
"We would receive the bonus of increased revenue, but there is also the incentive it provides not to use tobacco products," Klotz said. "This goes along with what we are trying to teach our kids — that they need to make good health choices and also good financial choices."
Page 2 of 2 - Snodgrass said Nodaway County's six other school districts will also benefit if Proposition B passes. Estimated annual revenues range from $23,000 for Jefferson C-123 to $37,000 at West Nodaway. The countywide average, excluding Maryville, comes to a little more than $32,000 a year per district.
Just as the pro-Proposition B event was breaking up, the opposition rolled onto the square in the form of an SUV pulling a large, two-sided sign reading "A 760 percent tax increase! Enough is enough. Vote No on Prop B!"
The sign is part of a statewide anti-Proposition B campaign mounted by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which issued a press release attacking the initiative.
The release cites research by Joseph Haslag, a University of Missouri-Columbia economist, which declares the measure will decrease state, county and municipal revenues by at least $67 million.
"The price increase will have adverse effects on the state, county and municipal revenues that rely on cigarette purchases," Haslag is quoted as saying. "Fiscal impacts will be widespread and felt by every political subdivision in the state of Missouri. No one will be held harmless if Proposition B passes."