Yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a well-argued OpEd from Rep. Mary Wynne Still (D), Columbia, in favor of legislation to raise Missouri’s cigarette excise tax from its current low of 17 cents a pack, but one very unlikely to make any headway in the legislature. It isn’t merely because of Republican control: it was the same when the Democrats were in charge when the chairs of critical committees were smokers themselves.
The last time the cigarette tax was raised in Missouri was in 1993 as a result of a political deal between former Missouri House Speaker Bob Griffin, a Democrat, and the tobacco lobby. As part of that deal the Speaker agreed to oppose any future tax increases.
A good review of the whole sordid story of how the tobacco industry has successfully opposed good public policy at the state level in Missouri appears in a well-researched study by Michael S. Givel, PhD, and Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, titled:
The study was published in November 2000 and is now available on-line by clicking the above link. Below are relevant excerpts from the study pertaining to the tobacco excise tax issue:
From 1990 to 1992, Missouri’s tobacco excise tax on packs of cigarettes was 13 cents per pack. There was an effort in the 1991 Missouri Legislative Session to raise this tax rate, which was vigorously opposed by John Britton [at the time, tobacco lobbyist for the now-disbanded Tobacco Institute] and the rest of the tobacco lobby. ……
By December 1992, this situation was about to change when Missouri House Speaker Bob Griffin (1991-1992 tobacco industry contributions $2,450) announced that he was contemplating a cigarette tax increase to fund a health care bill, which would increase preventive health care in clinics and schools and provide affordable health insurance to employers with 50 or fewer employees. In reaction to this, by April 1993, John Britton and the tobacco lobby had made a deal with House Speaker Bob Griffin to accept a four-cent increase in cigarette taxes. In return, according to an internal Tobacco Institute document, the industry received the following:
Attached is a copy of the amendment we plan to offer the committee [Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee] that will cap local taxes in Missouri. According to John Britton, we have the votes to get the amendment adopted in Committee.
As you know, both Britton and Roger Mozingo [Vice-President State Government Relations, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company] have spoken to the Speaker about this issue. The Speaker has told them both that he will support our amendment. The Speaker also points out that he feels locals do not have the power to tax cigarettes under Missouri’s constitution.
I want to make sure that you are aware that we will not oppose HB [House Bill] 564 if our amendment is adopted and stays in the bill.
Also, you need to be aware of the possibility of a rash of attempted local tax increases prior to October 1, 1993, which is the effective date of the bill. We have looked at Missouri’s law very carefully and can find no way to close this four and one half month window. An emergency clause on the cap section is the only possibility.
Britton has told me it would be impossible to get a two-thirds vote for an emergency clause given the controversial nature of the topic.
The legislation was subsequently adopted by the Missouri legislature with the preemption clause banning local adoption of new cigarette taxes remaining intact. Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan signed the bill into law on July 1, 1993.
Despite the party political upheavals in Jefferson City, the fundamental situation hasn’t changed much as regards tobacco control and the issue of cigarette taxation, so despite Rep. Mary Wynne Still’s arguments in her OpEd below, I don’t expect any progress on this issue.
Cigarette Taxes – Missouri can’t afford to be last
It’s time for smokers to pay their fair share.
By Mary Wynne Still | (3) Comments | Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 12:00 am
In many categories, Missouri has the lowest taxes in the country. The 2010 Morton Quitno State Rankings Book lists Missouri as:
• 47th lowest in per-capita taxes;
• 46th lowest in corporate income tax;
• 40th lowest in general revenue sales tax.
Now Missouri has a record low. As of July 1, when South Carolina raised its cigarette tax to 55 cents a pack, Missouri became the state with the lowest cigarette tax in the nation. Missouri’s 17-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes is now well below all the tobacco-producing states and all surrounding states. In fact, Missouri could raise its tax by 12 cents a package and still be the lowest — with tobacco-producing Virginia still above Missouri at 30 cents.
In other words, Missouri could double its cigarette tax and be the second lowest. Right now, when adjusted for inflation, Missouri’s cigarette tax is actually lower today than it was in 1961.
If this is a race to the bottom, we win.
But, what is the prize?
• More smokers. Already we rank fourth in the country in the percent of adults who smoke.
• More citizens suffering from lung cancer. We rank fifth in the nation in the number of new lung cancer cases, and we have the seventh-highest lung cancer death rate.
• More pregnant women smoking. Already, 31 percent of women in Missouri who are apregnant and on Medicaid smoke. This results in lower-birth weight babies at significant costs and with terrible illnesses.
But, forget for a moment the tragedy of these deaths and illnesses. And forget that our state is in the deepest budget hole since the Great Depression, which requires all of us to tighten our belts.
Let’s look at this simply from a position of fairness. Citizens who smoke are costing our state a bundle. Missouri now pays $738 per pregnant woman to treat tobacco-related problems. The Missouri Budget Project estimates that smoking-related illness cost the state’s Medicaid system $641 million in 2009 of combined federal and state funds, of which $256 million was state general revenue.
It is time to ask citizens who smoke to do their part in helping us cover their expenses.
A 12-cent increase in cigarette taxes — that’s less than a penny a cigarette — would raise about $68 million. Our Constitution restricts the amount of new taxes the legislature can impose any given year without a vote of the people. Because a 12-cent increase produces a revenue increase well below the ceiling mandated by the constitution, this amount could be imposed directly by the Legislature.
An alternative would be to send this issue directly to the voters. Let the voters decide if they would support a greater increase. A $1-a-pack increase would net $570 million revenue gain, but keep Missouri well below the national cigarette tax average and in line with its border states.
Either proposal moves Missouri ahead — both on health and well-being of our citizens.
Either proposal improves our ability as a state to balance our budget and would increase revenue to protect our investments, improve our economy and maintain our crumbling infrastructure.
Either proposal serves as a user tax, allowing citizens who smoke to contribute their fair share of the costs placed upon our state.
The race to the bottom is one we can’t afford to win. I will work this session with like-minded legislators to address this issue of fairness and personal responsibility.
State Rep. Mary Still, a Demcorat, represents Columbia in the Missouri House.