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Amendment 3: A choice between cheap cigarettes or kids

Amendment 3: A choice between cheap cigarettes or kids

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Unfortunately, there is a considerable amount of inaccurate information being circulated about Amendment 3, the initiative petition to increase investments in early childhood health and education through a 60-cent-per-pack increase on cigarettes. As you cast your ballot Nov. 8, please do so with accurate information. Please don’t be told what to think or how to vote; exercise your right and make up your mind based on your beliefs.

There’s a pretty simple axiom in politics: follow the money. The primary opposition to Amendment 3 is being driven by the cheap cigarette industry and for good reason. They have a lot to lose. They are being subsidized by Missouri’s taxpayers to the tune of $80 million every year. Missouri is the only state in the country that gives cheap cigarette companies this “gift,” which increases their profits at the expense of taxpayers. Amendment 3 will end this subsidy and dedicate the proceeds to a constitutionally protected fund that will invest in early childhood health and education.

In addition to subsidizing cigarette companies, Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation. That’s right, the lowest. Amendment 3’s modest cigarette tax increase will still keep us near the bottom. However, it will move us in the direction of significantly reducing costs for taxpayers. Not only will it remove the $80 million cheap cigarette subsidy, it will allow us to invest more in early childhood education. Missouri spends far less on early childhood education than any of our neighboring states and we have one of the lowest pre-K investments in the country.

Research shows early childhood education increases school performance and graduation rates, reduces crime and incarceration rates, and improves economic outcomes, all of which save taxpayers money. We cannot miss this opportunity to expand early childhood learning opportunities for children throughout our state.

It is unlikely we will see additional state funding for early childhood education approved by the Legislature in the foreseeable future. And if Amendment 3 is defeated, we are also unlikely to see a similar issue put before Missouri voters for a very long time. When it comes to supporting early childhood education in Missouri, it’s now or never.

Of course, these cheap cigarette companies have spent considerable money on a campaign to protect their subsidy. They have a playbook that has been used successfully to defeat three previous attempts to increase Missouri’s cigarette tax. They have circulated information that is simply false. They are banking on individuals not having the time to read the initiative petition for themselves.

Don’t take their word for what is in the petition and don’t take my word for it; please read it for yourself. If after reading the petition you don’t agree with it, then vote no. But please don’t make up your mind based on misinformation distributed by cigarette companies that want to keep their subsidy.

Simply put, Amendment 3 asks voters to choose between cheap cigarettes and kids. As a lifelong education advocate, that’s an easy answer. Vote yes on Amendment 3.

Melissa Randol is executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association.

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