Aug. 10--The Secretary of State's office announced Tuesday that four of the five initiative petitions submitted in May have been certified for the Nov. 8 ballot, according to a press release.
Voters will be asked to consider limiting certain campaign contributions in Missouri, banning all future state and local sales taxes on services and raising the tax on cigarettes. Because of too many invalidated signatures in one congressional district, the petition to legalize medical marijuana in Missouri was not certified.
The initiative petition that will prevent entities from taxing technical services is pre-emptive. The measure has been considered in neighboring states to shore up budgets.
Tobacco tax increase
The two ballot measures that ask voters to raise the sales tax on cigarettes has been said to be a showdown between big and small tobacco companies.
According to the Missouri Ethics Commission, Raise Your Hands for Kids (RYH4K) is largely bankrolled by Reynolds American Inc., which owns the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. RYH4K proposes incrementally increasing the sales tax on cigarettes to 60 cents per pack, upping Missouri's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette sales tax from 17 cents. The $263 million to $374 million it is estimated to create annually will be dedicated to early childhood education programs.
The RYH4K ballot measure also proposes an additional tax of 67 cents per pack directed toward small tobacco companies. Large tobacco companies including R.J. Reynolds currently make payments to several states including Missouri as a result of the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. However, Missouri is the only state to still exempt smaller tobacco companies from paying up.
The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, largely backed by smaller tobacco companies, put up their own initiative petition, phasing in a 23-cent-per-pack increase. The $95 million to $103 million estimated to be generated annually would go toward funding transportation projects. In the past, the group has lobbied against increasing the cigarette tax.
Several organizations have lobbied against the RYH4K petition because it takes money from big tobacco or because the ballot language says none of the revenue created can go toward abortions, stem-cell research programs or human cloning. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed a retraction withdrawing support.
If both ballot measures were to pass in November, Missourians would need to pony up for both taxes.
Campaign contribution limits
A proposal to curb Missouri's limitless campaign contributions has mostly been self-funded by St. Louis resident Fred Sauer through the supporting group Returning Government to the People.
Sauer, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 2012, founded the Missouri Roundtable for Life and is a cloning and stem cell research opponent.
According to the petition, political candidates would be able receive $2,600 while political parties could get checks of $25,000 in one election cycle. Limits would not apply to money given to issue-oriented committees.
Before 2008, statewide candidates could only receive $1,350, Senate candidates could receive $675 and House candidates could receive $325. The General Assembly repealed those limits in 2008, saying limitless donations would make the process more transparent.
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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Koster announced in a press release Tuesday that he would support campaign contribution limits, though he voted to repeal them when he was a Republican state senator.
"It has become clear the current system is no longer providing the transparency and accountability I had hoped for in 2006," Koster said in a press release. "While the ballot initiative to re-institute contribution limits is imperfect, large dark money donations have a corrosive impact on our politics."
Koster's biggest single donations reported so far in the past two years came from unions, one of which cut checks of $500,000. In July, his Republican opponent, Eric Greitens, received the biggest donation in Missouri history -- more than $1.9 million -- from a political action committee called SEALs for Truth, whose donors won't report until an October filing date required by federal election authorities.
The petition asking voters to approve medical marijuana did not make the cut, because too many of its signatures from Congressional District 2 -- or much of St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jefferson County -- were invalidated. Petitions must hit certain quotas of valid signatures in six of eight congressional districts.
From May to July, local election authorities work to validate signatures. Because 10,650 signatures were invalidated in the one district, the medical marijuana initiative petition was 2,242 signatures short of hitting its congressional district quota.
Eric Fey, the Saint Louis County director of elections, said the number of signatures invalidated isn't unusual for one congressional district.
"It doesn't appear the rejection rate of that petition was dissimilar from other petitions we processed," Fey said.
To give the process context, Fey said of the about 116,000 signatures submitted from the Kansas City area, only about 34,000 were validated. Because the petition only had about 40,000 signatures submitted in the Saint Louis County area, the likelihood of signatures being dropped to about 30,000 is probable, he said. Signatures are often invalidated because the person who signed the petition is not registered to vote in the district where he or she signed the petition, among other causes.
The petition is backed by New Approach Missouri. The ballot measure would have allowed doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients who have serious illnesses, such as cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Missouri Department of Health would have been in charge of writing policies and regulations. The revenue raised from a 4-percent sales tax on medical marijuana would have been dedicated to funding veterans programs.
Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for New Approach Missouri, said in an email that the group will file a lawsuit challenging the invalidated signatures within the week. He said previous initiative petitions have been successful in getting on the ballot through this method.
"The campaign stressed that they don't believe the local election authorities in this district unnecessarily invalidated these signatures out of malice, but rather the errors were made by overworked staff and temporary employees that are brought in to handle the validation process for this year's five initiative petitions," Cardetti said in a press release.
Rich Chrismer, the St. Charles County Election Authority director, said it's a common practice for local election authorities to hire temporary staff to validate signatures. He said that his staff verifies the rejected signatures.
Short of votes
The initiative petition for medical marijuana fell about 2,200 votes short in one congressional district, according to the Missouri Secretary of State's office. Signatures are often invalidated because those who sign the petition are not registered to vote in the district the petition is representing.
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