2 Mo. initiatives qualify for November ballot
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
By CHRIS BLANK
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s November ballot will ask voters to decide whether to increase tobacco and cigarette taxes and whether to allow St. Louis to administer its police department instead of a state commission.
The separate petitions each received enough signatures to qualify for the fall ballot, the secretary of state’s office reported Tuesday.
But election officials concluded two others — increasing the minimum wage and limiting payday and other short-term loans — fell short. Backers for those measures said Tuesday they plan to file a legal challenge to get the initiatives before voters in November.
Under the tobacco tax ballot measure, Missouri’s tax on each pack of cigarettes would increase by 73 cents with additional funds steered toward education and smoking prevention and cessation. Taxes on other tobacco products also would be increased. The measure is supported by health organizations including the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association.
Missouri currently levies a cigarette tax of 17 cents per pack, and the national average is $1.46. This will be the third time in a decade that a measure seeking to increase tobacco taxes has appeared on the statewide ballot. In 2002, Missourians defeated a 55-cent increase by roughly 31,000 votes and did the same in 2006, rejecting an 80-cent increase by about 61,000 votes.
The other measure on the November ballot calls for St. Louis to oversee the city’s police department instead of a Civil War-era state commission.
All four initiatives required a number of signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes in 2008 governor’s election from six of Missouri’s nine congressional districts. That amounts to between 91,818 and 99,600 signatures, depending upon the districts targeted. The signatures had to be turned in by early May.
The secretary of state’s said Tuesday that the minimum wage measure had enough signatures from four congressional districts and that the payday loan measure hit the mark in five districts. The minimum wage measure was about 1,100 signatures short in the 1st Congressional District in St. Louis and about 500 signatures short in the 3rd Congressional District near St. Louis. The lending measure was less than 300 signatures short in the 1st Congressional District.
Supporters of the two measures that did not make the ballot said they remained confident enough valid signatures were submitted. They said it appears many signatures were improperly invalidated in St. Louis. Opponents of the lending ballot measure said its review showed more signatures were invalid.
The wage initiative would increase Missouri’s minimum pay to $8.25 per hour starting in 2013, with an annual cost-of-living adjustment in subsequent years. If the federal minimum wage increases above that, Missouri would adopt the federal rate and apply cost-of-living adjustments to that.
Voters approved a 2006 ballot measure increasing the minimum the wage to $6.50 with cost-of-living adjustments. It also required Missouri to follow the federal minimum wage if it was higher than the state’s minimum. Therefore, Missouri currently follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
The lending measure would limit the annual interest rate charged on certain short-term loans to 36 percent. In 2009, the Missouri Division of Finance calculated that the average payday loan carried an average annual interest rate of 431 percent. Payday loans give borrowers money in exchange for a check that is cashed on their next payday. Some other types of short-term loans are secured by vehicle titles or other means.