In politics, so much is like a rancid M&M.
Whether it is a candidate or a ballot initiative, a lot looks good on the outside but when you crack through the pretty, thin candy shell the inside is full of rot. That is certainly the case with a collection of measures on the November ballot in Missouri. Chief among them are the two proposals that would increase taxes on cigarettes.
According to the Missouri Secretary of State’s website (sos.mo.gov), if approved Proposition A would increase cigarette taxes every couple of years to a total of 23 cents per pack; it also would hike by 5 percent the taxes paid by sellers on tobacco products. The revenue would be used to fund state transportation projects.
Leveraging “sin taxes” – levies on items such as tobacco and alcohol that are harmful to peoples’ health – is a backward way to fund anything of consequence. The Adam Smith Institute, in reference to its study “The Wages of Sin Taxes,” wrote that such taxes “are ineffective in reducing consumption and are not necessary for recouping lost revenue. The taxes are highly regressive and force the poor to pay for the government’s mishandling of public finances.” If the Missouri Department of Transportation does not have the funding needed to properly maintain the state’s roads, then one of two things should happen: The Legislature should allocate more to the department’s budget, cutting funds from another area, or a gasoline and diesel fuel tax – with its revenue restricted to use for road maintenance – should be instituted. Simply put, smoking isn’t eroding the state’s roads, vehicle use is, so that is where the repair funds should be generated.
But another flaw with Proposition A is that would be rendered void “if a measure to increase any tax or fee on cigarettes or other tobacco products is certified to appear on any local or statewide ballot,” as described by the secretary of state. In essence, this plan to fund road repairs would be eradicated if any other state entity decides to create a tobacco tax for any purpose. How Proposition A even landed on the ballot is a wonder. It is a pointless exercise and voters should reject it.
Voters also should shoot down Amendment 3, another proposal that masquerades its true intent. On the outside, Amendment 3 increases tobacco taxes and directs that the funding be used to create an Early Childhood Health and Education Trust Fund. Promoting early childhood education sounds good, but when voters crack that candy shell they will find that the measure is being bankrolled by Big Tobacco as a way to penalize smaller cigarette makers, and that the amendment forbids use of the generated funds to research tobacco’s effects in any way.
Also, as Henry J. Waters III wrote in the Columbia Daily Tribune, “Amendment 3 allows tax money to go to private or religious schools, otherwise prohibited in the Constitution. It restricts use of money for stem cell research, treatment and cures.” The amendment language also mandates that “none of the funds collected … shall be expended, paid or granted to or on behalf of existing or proposed activities, programs or initiatives that involve abortion services.” The St. Louis American stated in its editorial opposing Amendment 3, “There is no defensible reason why this language should appear in a measure that has nothing to do with stem cell research or a woman’s right to choose abortion.”
Early childhood education truly is a worthy cause, but Amendment 3 is not worthy of anyone’s vote. It is not a real solution and has far too many extraneous entanglements. I have no problem with raising the state’s tobacco taxes, but these measures create more problems than they could solve.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.