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Missouri Cigarette Tax Hike for Early Childhood on Ballot, For Now

Missouri voters may have an opportunity this fall to vote on increasing cigarette taxes to pay for early-childhood programs in the state, but supporters of a competing initiative are fighting to have the education-related measure taken off the ballot, even though they've lost once in court.

The Missouri 60 Cent Cigarette Tax, if approved, would raise cigarette taxes from their current 17 cents per pack—the lowest in the nation—to 77 cents per pack by 2020. The measure would also impose a 67-cents-per-pack tax on cigarette wholesalers for certain cigarettes.

The revenue from the tax, estimated at $263 million to $374 million annually, would go into a newly created Early Childhood Health and Education Trust Fund.

In 2014-15, about 4 percent of Missouri 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. 

Competing Cigarette Tax Hikes in Missouri

The measure is on the same ballot as a 23-cents-per-pack cigarette and tobacco tax that would go to transportation improvements in Missouri.

Large tobacco companies have lined up to support the early-childhood cigarette tax because of a 67-cent provision on cigarette wholesalers, reports St. Louis Public Radio. The station notes that "the added tax is aimed at closing the 'loophole' that has allowed small tobacco companies to avoid the payments that the large tobacco companies have made to 46 states, including Missouri, as part of [a multistate] 1998 court settlement."

Smaller tobacco companies, on the other hand, are supporting the 23-cent ballot measure, which would have less of a financial impact on them. They are among the groups fighting to have the early-childhood measure removed. A judge ruled Tuesday in favor of keeping the 60-cent tax hike on the ballot, but opponents have said they plan to file an appeal. Their argument is that people signed a petition for the 60-cent hike based on an inaccurate summary of the measure. 

In the meantime, the Missouri National Education Association has come out against the 60-cent ballot measure, saying that it would allow public money to be spent at private and parochial schools. 

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