Proposed cigarette tax could bolster Southern budget

Folks who smoke already know it is bad for their health. If some groups get their wish, smoking will also hit smokers’ wallets a bit more.

An article in the St. Louis-Post Dispatch reported that several groups are calling for the tax on cigarettes to be raised. The current tax is 17 cents per pack, which is the lowest of any state in the nation.

One group, the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, has filed a motion to raise the tax to 40 cents. The group stated it could generate $800 million over 10 years to fund transportation issues. However, the article later states the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDot) has no plans for expansion projects, new lanes, etc. over the next five years.

Any group wanting to seek a higher cigarette tax would need to collect at least 157,788 signatures to go on the November 2016 ballot. As of August 2015, 80 different groups want the issue on the ballot.

In March, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster called for raising the cigarette tax to around 90 cents per pack, earmarking the money to fund college scholarships for state students.

As of Aug. 18, 2015, no petition has been filed to get the measure on the ballot.

As a state school, Missouri Southern receives funding from the state. Robert Yust, vice president for business affairs at Southern, explained the figures.

“For our current fiscal year 2016, which began July 1, 2015, MSSU is scheduled to receive $23,683,485 in state appropriations from the state of Missouri,” he said.

Yust added that the funding is received in monthly allotments of $1,973,624.

“The $23,683,485 is approximately 31 percent of Missouri Southern State University’s annual budgeted revenue for FY 2016,” Yust said.

Dr. Alan Marble, president of Southern, said the tax would be beneficial.

“I can’t predict how voters will perceive this or any other proposed tax increase,” Marble said. “However, I would argue that it would be beneficial not only as a funding mechanism for scholarships, but hopefully it would also serve as a deterrent to smoking. In that case, the public health benefits alone would be worthwhile.”

At this time, the ideas being floated are just that; no definite mention of collecting signatures to get the issue on the November 2016 ballot has come to light.

In a similar election in 2012, voters rejected a plan to raise the cigarette tax to 73 cents per pack. At that time, nearly 51 percent of voters said no. That program was slated to generate $283 million for smoking cessation programs, K-12 education and higher education.