Judge Rules in Favor of Tobacco Tax Measure
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Judge Rules in Favor of Tobacco Tax Measure

Date: September 11, 2006
By: Emily Freeman
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -  A Cole County Circuit Court Judge ruled in favor of a proposal to put a tobacco tax increase on the November ballot on Monday.

The tax increase, which would raise tobacco tax from 17 to 97 cents per pack of cigarettes, was rejected by the Secretary of State in August because it fell 274 signatures short of the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot, and thousands of other signatures were called into question.

But Monday afternoon Cole County Judge Tom Brown accepted additional signatures that Jackson County election officials subsequently had verified..

Chuck Hatfield, an attorney in favor of the ballot measure, walked out of the judge's chamber smiling. "Judge Brown issued an order to place tobacco tax back on the ballot," Hatfield said. "He found it did have more than the 1,000 signatures needed."

Opposition to the proposal stemmed from petition signatures that were called into question due to improper notarization and voter registration problems . Marc Ellinger, an attorney who opposes the tax increase, maintained that there are thousands of signatures still in question. "I think we're a little surprised," Ellinger said. "Ultimately, the judge did not agree with us."

Ellinger said opponents are considering an appeal to the ruling, but time is running short for such an act.

Hatfield voiced his expectancy of an appeal, but pointed out that changes to a ballot cannot be made up to 6 weeks before the vote. With the November elections only 9 weeks away, an appeal would have to be issued within the next few days. "Time is crucial," Ellinger said. "We will take a look at the judge's orders and make a decision."

The proposed tax increase would raise the price of cigarette packs by 80 cents each - or four cents per cigarette - and the tax on all other tobacco products would be increased by twenty percent. Missouri's current tobacco tax rate of 17 cents per pack of cigarettes is the second-lowest in the nation, with South Carolina coming in lowest at a tax rate of 7 cents per pack. The highest tobacco tax in the country is found in Rhode Island, a state where a $2.46 tax is levied on each pack of cigarettes.

If voters approve the tax increase in November, Missouri's 97 cent tax on cigarette packs  would rank number 21 in the nation, just behind Illinois at 98 cents and ahead of New Mexico at 91 cents.

In 2002, a similar tobacco tax increase proposal pushed by health industry interests narrowly was defeated by Missouri voters -- 49.1% to 50.9%.  The 2002 November proposal would have raised the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 55 cents.

The following year, Bob Holden proposed a similar 55 cent increase, but it failed to make any headway in the Republican-controlled legislature that year or again in 2004 when Holden renewed his call.