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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Missouri Supreme Court says proposed cigarette tax hike stays on ballot

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The Missouri Supreme Court says a a proposal to raise Missouri tobacco taxes to pay for early childhood programs will stay on the statewide ballot in November. Opponents of the measure argued a misleading summary of the measure was on petitions used to gather signatures for it, but the court said it has no authority to take it off the ballot.

The measure will be on the ballot as Amendment 3. It would hike cigarette taxes from 17 cents to 77 cents a pack by 2020 and create a 67-cent-per-pack "equity" fee on off-brand cigarettes that would increase annually for inflation. 

Opponents say the equity fee favors companies that make cigarette brands that paid millions of dollars to settle a lawsuit several years ago by many states over adverse health effects of cigarettes.
Proponents of the measure argued that taking it off the ballot would violate backers' constitutional right to use the initiative petition process.

After the signatures were submitted, an appeals court ruled the short description of the proposal given to petition signers was unfair and misleading. That ruing means voters will see a different ballot summary than the summary that was on the petitions. A circuit court judge then ruled that the measure could stay on the statewide ballot despite the change in the description.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled 7 - 0 that no law or constitutional provision clearly says the secretary of state must invalidate a ballot petition issue after the signatures are gathered and validated, even when the summary is changed after it's placed on the ballot. The high court also ruled that no law or constitutional provision requires the proponents of the issue to start over and seek new petition-signatures if a court changes the summary.

The Missouri Supreme Court also turned down other arguments against the ballot issue, including that it would change more than one article of the state constitution and would violate the state constitution ban on “appropriation by initiative.”

Opponents made other arguments against the proposal but the Supreme Court said those issues could be adjudicated if voters approve the constitutional amendment. 

Opponents will now turn their attention to trying to defeat the issue on Nov. 8.

“Big Tobacco disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters when they circulated an outrageous and unfair 747 percent tax increase ballot scheme that the Court of Appeals ruled was 'unfair and insufficient,'" said Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (MPCA) in a news release. 

 “While we are disappointed the Missouri Supreme Court did not strike Big Tobacco’s Amendment 3 from the ballot, we are confident the people will see through Big Tobacco’s scam to place many troubling provisions in Missouri’s Constitution and vote no on Nov. 8."