Amendments go before voters on Nov. 6

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Missouri voters will decide on an amendment to the Missouri Constitution and three propositions placed on the ballot by petition in the Nov. 6 election.

Proposition B

Proposition B has generated the most controversy. The proposal calls for imposing new sales taxes on tobacco products. The state would impose a tax of $.0365 per cigarette, or $.73 a pack, a tax covering 25 percent of the manufacturer's invoice price on tobacco for user-made rolled cigarettes plus a 15 percent tax on other tobacco products.

Missouri presently has the lowest cigarette tax in the country at 17 cents. Proposition B would raise the tax to $.73, which is still lower than the $.79 tax in Kansas, $1.03 tax in Oklahoma and the $1.15 tax in Arkansas.

According to projections, the tax would generate approximately $140 million a year. The proposal calls for creation of the Health and Education Trust Fund and directs the money to be used to fund tobacco-use prevention and for elementary, secondary, college and university operations.

Specific tobacco manufacturers are also directed to increase the funds kept in escrow accounts to pay judgments or settlements, and to create bonding requirements for the sale of their tobacco products in the state.

Battle lines are drawn on the side of proponents, such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Missouri School Boards Association, against the opponents, led by Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

"Proposition B will provide money for schools at a time when the state Foundation Formula is only paying 90 to 92 percent of the total due to school districts," said Brad Hanson, Monett R-1 school superintendent. "Any little bit will help. Passage of Prop B would bring $250,000 to $500,000 more to Monett schools annually."

The increase could be limited because of increased funding to help stop smoking.

"If we get less money, it's a good trade-off if smoking drops. To me, that's a winning proposition," Hanson said.

Convenience store operators, who hold a major share in the market for the sale of tobacco products, have posted signs in opposition to the proposal. They declare the 760 percent tax increase is excessive.

A simple majority is needed for passage.

Amendment #3

The remaining issues were placed on ballot by the Missouri General Assembly.

Constitutional Amendment #3 would change the way judges are selected for the Missouri Supreme Court and the state's three Courts of Appeal. The current judge selection system, known as the Missouri Plan, has been on the books since 1940. A three-person Judicial Nominating Commission was established to free the process from the control of political bosses.

Amendment #3 is a plan promoted by Better Courts for Missouri that would enable the governor to appoint four of the seven members to the Nominating Commission, instead of three, which would be a majority. The other three are appointed by the Missouri Bar Association.

All of the governor's appointees could be attorneys under the change, whereas at present, none can be lawyers. The amendment would also change the seat held by a Missouri Supreme Court member on the commission from a voting position to an advisory role.

Better Courts for Missouri argues that the change will remove the secrecy from the selection process, and will keep trial lawyers from controlling who becomes a judge. The governor will be made more accountable to the voters for court selections. Judges appointed would have to stand for election to keep their jobs after one year, then face re-election every 12 years.

Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, opposing the change, argues the selection process has not been politicized and does not need to be changed. The Missouri General Assembly opted to let the voters decide.

A simple majority is needed for passage.

Proposition E

Proposition E is a reaction to the federal Affordable Healthcare Act, known as ObamaCare. Opponents of the Democrat-promoted federal plan seek to prohibit the Missouri governor or any state agency from establishing or operating a state-based health insurance exchange unless authorized by the Missouri General Assembly or a vote of the Missouri public.

A key component of the federal plan calls for states to establish an Internet-based marketplace for consumers to compare insurance plans. Exchanges would help individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance at affordable rates, thus meeting the mandate to have insurance coverage.

Governor Jay Nixon has pledged not to set up any insurance exchange by executive order. Republican legislators and Tea Party groups back Proposition E as a way to keep the federal law from being implemented. Passage of Proposition E would only delay the process, since federal authorities must establish exchanges with or without state cooperations by 2014.

Proposition A

Proposition A only applies to the City of St. Louis. The proposal would transfer authority for control over the city's police department from a Board of Police Commissioners, now appointed by the Missouri governor, to the city. The proposal is strongly supported by city officials in St. Louis and the Safer Missouri Citizens Coalition.

The present arrangement, which also affects Kansas City, has existed since the Civil War. Proponents argue the present law is outdated and a change will save up $4 million in tax revenue by consolidating duties. The state will also no longer be liable for lawsuits filed against the St. Louis Police Department.

A simple majority is needed for passage.

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