Only one Missouri ballot measure merits yes vote

Posted: Oct. 26, 2016 7:55 am

MISSOURI VOTERS will decide five constitutional amendments and a proposition when they cast ballots Nov. 8.

The number of ballot measures is high largely because Missouri lawmakers have lacked the legislative will to tackle critical issues, preferring instead to hand off decisions to voters through constitutional change that can have unintended, long-term consequences.

Still, there is one amendment voters should approve. Amendment 1 calls for extending the one-tenth of 1 percent sales and use tax that is earmarked for soil and water conservation, and to help finance the state's 88 parks and historic sites for another 10 years.

The tax generates about $90 million annually and is the primary funding source for the state's parks and historic sites. It was first approved by voters in 1984, and again in 1988, 1996 and 2006. We support this measure because it has proved to be money well spent. Voters should say yes to Amendment 1.

However, we believe voters should reject the four other amendments and the sole proposition.

Amendment 2 would re-establish campaign contribution limits in state elections. It would cap individual contributions to candidates for any state or judicial office to $2,600 per election, and contributions to political parties to $25,000 in any election.

In addition, the measure would bar corporations and labor unions from making direct contributions to campaigns, with some exceptions; ban a political candidate from donating directly to another candidate's committee; and prevent a political action committee from taking contributions from other PACs.

Voters approved contribution limits in 1994 by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, but the Legislature eliminated them in 2008, leading to the rise of mega donors who have contributed millions to candidates and initiatives. Missouri is one of a handful of states without limits on campaign donations.

While we believe there's a need to rein in exorbitant spending, reduce the influence of big money that has helped fuel a raft of ethical problems in the state and create more transparency on the source of campaign funding, this amendment is a poorly crafted overreach. This issue, along with enacting more stringent ethics measures, should be addressed through legislation, not a constitutional amendment.

Voters should say no to Amendment 2.

Amendment 3 would raise the state's tax on cigarettes, among the lowest in the nation at 17 cents per pack, by 60 cents over four years. It also would apply a 67-cents-per-pack fee to wholesalers of some discount-brand cigarettes.

Proponents say the amendment, when fully implemented, would generate between $263 million to $374 million annually, with 75 percent of that revenue earmarked for a newly created Early Childhood Health and Education Trust Fund. The rest would go for children's health care and for programs to help people stop smoking.

We normally would support more education funding and programs that would help curtail smoking. But major tobacco firms are bankrolling this initiative, in part to raise the cost for discount-brand competitors. Provisions in the measure involving abortion and stem-cell research also mean it would likely be challenged in court for years, delaying any potential funding.

Moreover, the measure would send money to private and religious schools, now prohibited in the Constitution, and would forbid using funds for "tobacco-related research of any kind."

More than 100 state legislators oppose the initiative, along with the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Tobacco-Free Missouri, Missouri Retired Teachers Association and Missouri Association of Rural Educators.

Voters should say no to Amendment 3, and instead urge lawmakers to adequately address education funding.

Likewise, Proposition A is a competing tobacco measure funded heavily by the makers of off-brand cigarettes, along with the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Operators Association. It would incrementally raise taxes by 23 cents a pack by 2021 and increase the fee paid by sellers of other tobacco products by 5 percent.

The revenue, estimated between $95 million and $103 million when fully implemented, would fund transportation projects. However, these taxes would be repealed if a measure to increase any tax or fee on cigarettes or other tobacco products is certified to appear on any local or statewide ballot.

Clearly, Missouri needs to adequately address an acute transportation funding crisis that is handcuffing the Missouri Department of Transportation, but this proposition falls woefully short, and the intention of proponents is questionable.

Lawmakers who have failed to approve more legitimate funding measures in three of the past four years should instead get to work to find adequate revenue to meet the state's critical transportation needs.

Voters should say no to Proposition A.

Amendment 4 would prohibit new state or local sales/uses taxes on any service or transaction that was not subject to a tax as of Jan. 1, 2015.

Proponents say a constitutional amendment is necessary because taxing all services would put a burden on taxpayers and businesses. Even though no bill that would impose a broad tax increase on professional services has gained traction in the Legislature, they say lawmakers should not be trusted with deciding which services might be taxed and which ones might not.

Opponents, like Richard Sheets of the Missouri Municipal League, call the measure "a solution looking for a problem." He said the wording of the proposed amendment is vague and would adversely affect the abilities of local governments to revise tax structures, as they see fit, to fund community services.

While we would oppose taxing many services, a constitutional amendment would be shortsighted in an ever-changing world. This issue should be left up to elected state and local officials, rather than changing the Constitution.

Vote no on Amendment 4.

Amendment 6 would change the state's Constitution to require voters to provide valid government-issued photo identification to verify their identity, citizenship and residence to cast a ballot.

Proponents say the measure would prevent fraud and ensure election integrity. Opponents say there is little evidence of fraud, and the initiative would disenfranchise voters who may not have the means to obtain a photo ID, namely minorities, the poor, the elderly and the disabled.

The measure does allow voters without a valid ID to cast a provisional ballot while their identity is verified, and it calls for the state to pay for photo IDs for those who do not have one. The potential cost to state and local governments could exceed $2.1 million annually.

Those provisions may make the amendment more palatable, but Missouri already requires some form of identification for voters to cast ballots. And provisions are in place to allow those without identification to vote.

Courts already have struck down many voter ID laws in other states, and it's unclear whether this measure would survive a court challenge, if approved. This measure appears to be politically motivated, and voters should reject it.