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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Cigarette consumers in Missouri are once again faced with a potential increase in the state's cigarette excise tax, and this time, the proposal has an unlikely ally -- the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (MPCA).
After fighting to block three statewide votes over the past decade, the association has helped write a proposed cigarette-only tax increase it will support, according to the News Tribune.
"The voters were not saying no to any and all cigarette tax increases," Ron Leone, the association's executive director, told the Senate's Ways and Means Committee Thursday morning. "We believe the voters were saying no to the outrageous and unfair tax increases contained in those three initiative petitions."
Currently, Missouri has the lowest cigarette levy at 17 cents per pack. It trails the next lowest, Virginia, by 13 cents. State officials have tried to increase the tax in 2002, 2006 and last fall, only to find the measures defeated at the polls. Each time they were voted down by slim margins, ranging from a 2.83-percent margin in 2006 to a 1.6-percent margin last fall.
According to the news report, State Sen. John Lamping (R-Ladue) proposes raising the state's excise tax by 13 cents, which then would match Virginia's 30-cent levy.
"This is (an) attempt to raise cigarette taxes in a politically palatable way," Lamping told the committee. "The increase in cigarette tax is offset by eliminating (some income) tax brackets."
Last year, Lamping proposed a tax increase to 36 cents a pack from the current 17 cents. His new proposal raises the tax by only 13 cents, spread throughout the four years. Cigarette consumers would face a 5-cent increase beginning Jan. 1, 2015; another nickel hike beginning Jan. 1, 2017; and a final 3-cent hike beginning Jan. 1, 2019.
Leone said his association raised objections to the previous increases because they were too big. The new proposal "maintains the competitive tax advantage we have over our eight border states," he explained, "which is, really, the only critical issue that I've dealt with in those three initiative petitions."
However, not everyone is in favor of the new proposal. Misty Snodgrass, the American Cancer Society's Missouri government relations director, helped lead last fall's campaign and led Thursday's opposition to the bill "for many reasons," the newspaper reported.
"First and foremost," she said, "this will not reduce smoking rates; it will not save the amount of money that we spend on Medicaid ... because there won't be a reduction in usage."
She also objected to a provision in the bill that would cancel the tax increase if an initiative petition seeking an even higher tax is placed on the ballot for a statewide vote. However, Leone and Lamping defended the "poison pill" provision in the new proposal, saying it's an important part of the cigarette tax increase plan.