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Archive for Saturday, August 10, 2002

Tobacco tax supporters fail ballot criteria

August 10, 2002

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— A proposal to more than quadruple Missouri's cigarette tax has been snuffed out after supporters had already spent more than $1 million in their efforts to get it on the November ballot.

Secretary of State Matt Blunt said Friday the initiative failed to garner the necessary petition signatures from registered voters.

"They got more signatures than they needed overall, but they just didn't get them in the right places," Blunt said.

Citizens for a Healthy Missouri submitted about 130,000 signatures to the state in May. Of those, 96,242 were determined by local election authorities to be from registered voters well more than the 78,143 required by the state constitution.

But group did not meet the constitutional requirement of gathering signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the 2000 gubernatorial election in six of the nine congressional districts.

Blunt said that 2,399 signatures collected in the 2nd Congressional District in suburban St. Louis were invalid, leaving Citizens for a Healthy Missouri 673 signatures short of the 15,143 required in that district.

The result is a costly one for Citizens for a Healthy Missouri.

Since last year, the group had raised more than $2.2 million and spent more than $1 million, according to campaign finance reports. More than $1.1 million of the money raised came from the Missouri Hospital Assn.

The finance reports also show Citizens for a Healthy Missouri paid $491,000 to National Voter Outreach, a company that was used along with volunteers to gather signatures.

Brad Ketcher, a spokesman for Citizens for a Healthy Missouri, said the group was considering its legal options, including a potential lawsuit challenging the decision.

"We're very disappointed at the determination," Ketcher said. "We think there's a high likelihood that this has been wrongly decided, meaning it should have been certified for the ballot."

The ballot proposal would have asked voters to add 55 cents to the state's current tax of 17 cents per pack of cigarettes. Taxes on other tobacco products would have risen by 20 percent.

Election officials in Lincoln, St. Charles and St. Louis counties submitted reports to Blunt outlining why signatures were rejected. Blunt said he agreed with their reasons. The majority of signatures were rejected because they were collected from people who were not registered to vote.

"There's no obligation to review their findings, but we did, and it appears to us that their analysis is correct," Blunt said.

The report to Blunt said 260 signatures were rejected in Lincoln County, 953 in St. Charles County and 977 in the portion of St. Louis County in the 2nd Congressional District.

The higher tobacco taxes would have generated an estimated $342.6 million annually for the state.

Under the proposal, 43 percent of the new state tax money would have gone to health-care treatment, including prescription drugs for seniors and other initiatives for the poor, women, minorities and children.

Twenty-nine percent would have been allocated to hospital trauma care; 14 percent to life sciences research; 7 percent to smoking prevention efforts; and 7 percent to early childhood programs.

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