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Column: MU needs your support on cigarette tax increase

Ben Levin

Oct. 30, 2012

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

Don’t let the shiny student center and awesome swag floating around campus fool you: MU suffers from a chronic lack of funding.

Only four other states in the union offer less state support to their flagship institutions. Campus Facilities has a backlog of critical repairs to classrooms and dorms that would cost $177.1 million to complete. MU’s faculty is paid, on average, $17,000 less than their Association of American Universities peers. Tuition has increased each of the last five years as Bright Flight and Access Missouri scholarships have withered.

MU needs to find new revenue sources if it’s to continue to provide a quality college education. Proposition B is that solution.

And a solution is needed, because the sad truth is education cuts affect more than our professors’ salaries or our decrepit classrooms. Just in the last year, the Missouri Students Association found it necessary to open a food pantry for its student body. Although the outpouring of support it has received genuinely warms the heart, its existence should send a cold shiver down your spine. More and more students are impoverishing themselves to get an education. At a time when attention should be directed toward their studies, our peers are filing food stamp forms and applying for Medicaid eligibility. They are worrying, day-to-day, about putting food on their tables. We should celebrate our student food pantry and bemoan its necessity. It is the inevitable result of drastic and irresponsible cuts to higher education.

Students fought for, and got, a respite from harsh state cuts in last year’s budget. But the trend lines are as depressing as they are clear: If MU is to continue to grow and improve, it needs more revenue. And we’re not going to get it from existing channels.

The average state cigarette tax is $1.49 a pack. In Missouri, it’s $0.17 — the lowest in the nation by a comically wide margin. A low cigarette tax doesn’t just rob Missouri of needed tax revenue — it increases the amount that we smoke. Missouri ranks fifth in smoking prevalence, a fact that is undoubtedly related to how cheap our cigarettes are. The Centers for Disease Control estimates smoking-related health costs total $10.47 per pack. These costs, which in our state run into the hundreds of millions of dollars a year, fall disproportionately on Medicaid enrollees and those enlisted on government welfare. In short, all tax-paying Missourians pay the price for the choices that smokers make. Raising cigarette taxes makes that choice harder.

Enter Proposition B, which raises the cigarette tax by $0.73 to $0.90 a pack. Notice: The amount is still substantially below the national average. We would be ranked not 50th, but 32nd of all 50 states.

What makes Proposition B interesting — and worthy of your support — is what it plans to accomplish with its revenue. Missouri budget experts expect the tax to generate $283 million to $423 million every year. This revenue would be put aside exclusively for public education in the state of Missouri. Every cent would be funneled into strengthening Missouri’s long-term competitiveness. This campus alone could expect to receive an additional $40 million a year.

This money represents MU’s only opportunity to replenish the funds pilfered from higher education by both Democrats and Republicans throughout the years.

No one likes a tax increase. And it’s true that excise taxes, or “sin taxes” like this one, disproportionately harm the poor. But our budget is about priorities. It’s about what matters most to you. Sending any tax increase to a referendum is always a risky move. Ultimately, it signifies a vote of confidence in the voters of Missouri, confidence in knowing our education and our health are worth the modest price smokers are being asked to pay. On Nov. 6, let us reward that confidence. For a healthier Missouri and a stronger Mizzou, vote yes on Proposition B.

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Article comments

Oct. 30, 2012 at 6:36 p.m.

Chase Van Arsdale: As a non smoker I can be objective about the possible cigarette tax increase in MO.....It's totally WRONG! Also if the University wants more funding, ask the Federal Government, that's their job, not the poor cigarette smokers, who have become this country's SCAPEGOATS for everything!

Oct. 30, 2012 at 7:40 p.m.

Mike Adams: I don't think the citizens of Missouri need to have a tax increase on their cigarettes, if they don't go to MU. I think that's only fair, don't you?

Oct. 31, 2012 at 3:12 a.m.

Mike: I don't see point in tax increase, as you can buy cigarettes online from online smoke shops, and cigarettes come duty-free. For example: www.lowcostcigarettesus.com or similar

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