Voters have a lot to chew on when they step into the ballot booth on Nov. 8. Besides electing our next president, who will enter the job facing America’s decreased prestige and role in foreign affairs, a porous American border that is a threat to national security and the prospect of nominating multiple justices to the Supreme Court, voters will also be deciding the fate of five amendments to the state constitution and one statutory proposition.
Understanding these ballot initiatives can be both challenging and frustrating for voters. Explaining complicated and sometimes controversial issues in 100 or fewer words can be confusing to the point that voters don’t know what a “yes” or “no” vote means. On top of that, advocacy and interest groups can muddy the waters by presenting an issue disingenuously or actually writing a ballot proposal to favor their position. In this report, I will attempt to present the ballot issues as I see them and encourage you to further your research by visiting http://www.sos.mo.gov/petitions/2016BallotMeasureswhere you can read the actual ballot language and a summary.
This amendment would renew Missouri’s 0.1 percent tax for soil and water conservation and operation of the state park system for another 10 years. The tax originated with a 1984 constitutional amendment and, due to the wording of the amendment, voters must reapprove the measure every 10 years. The revenue from this amendment supports efforts to stop soil erosion and for water conservation. It is also the primary source of funding for the state’s 88 state parks and historic sites. It’s no secret that I am no fan of taxes. From where I am sitting, any program or proposal that wants our money and promises big results is usually telling a half-truth or no truth at all. But, this one has shown some positive results. It’s estimated our soil and water conservation efforts have prevented more than 177 million tons of soil from eroding into Missouri’s streams, rivers and lakes and we all are proud of our state parks and the tourism and economic activity they bring to our state and our area, specifically. A “Yes” vote will continue the tax for another 10 years. A “No” vote would end collection of the tax.
Amendment 2takes aim at Missouri’s campaign finance laws. The measure is being pushed by the group “Returning Government to the People” and has been mostly self-funded by St. Louis resident Fred Sauer, who has put over $1 million into the effort. The goal of the amendment is to limit campaign contributions by capping them at $2,600 to candidates for office and $25,000 to political parties in one election cycle. Proponents of the amendment say large contributions from individual donors have the appearance of impropriety and are eroding public trust in elections. Opponents say the amendment limits free speech, unfairly imposes restrictions on some entities over others, and that transparency is the most important aspect of campaign finance reform. I think we all want our elected officials working for us and no one else and we can, and should, take the appropriate steps to limit undue influence on our system. A “Yes” vote would put the new limits in place, while a “No” vote would reject the limits.
This amendment seeks to raise Missouri’s tax of 17 cents per pack of cigarettes, to 77 cents per pack over the next four years for early childhood education initiatives, hospitals and health care, and smoking cessation programs. Hiking tobacco taxes is a traditional election-year target and pet project for those on the lookout for more taxpayer money and voters continue to reject them. Missouri voters spoke loud and clear on this issue when they voted down a 2012 effort to raise the state’s tobacco tax by over 70 cents. Aside from voter wariness of new taxes, most of us understand that government will become dependent on the new funding source and eventually more tax dollars will be needed as tobacco use drops. There is also no guarantee that the money will go to fund early childhood education and that there won’t be a similar bait and switch like the promise of more funding from the lottery and casinos that turned out to be a farce. A “Yes” vote will impose the new tax and a “No” vote rejects it.
Amendment 4 is an effort to freeze sales tax on services that have never been taxed before. This includes services like haircuts, music lessons, accountants, doctors, lawyers and realtors. Currently, these types of services are not taxed, but in many states around the country, government officials and interest groups craving more taxpayer money are looking for new sources of revenue and they are increasingly targeting new taxes on services. During my time in the Legislature, I have too often seen big government and its benefactors look to more taxes instead of finding ways to make government smaller and more efficient. Big government concerns aside, the amendment would benefit low- and middle-income families, who often get hit by sales tax the hardest. A “Yes” vote would stop any new taxes on services while a “No” vote would allow for the possibility of new taxes on services.
This is an amendment that would require voters to show a photo ID before voting to prove they are who they say they are. Since I have written about this issue multiple times, I am just going to say ditto and encourage you to vote for it. I believe that confirming that each voter is lawfully registered and lawfully resides in this state is essential to protecting the integrity of Missouri elections. A “Yes” vote would require voters to prove their identity before voting while a “No” would maintain the status quo.
There is one proposition on the ballot and the difference between it and a constitutional amendment is that proposition only changes state statutory law. An amendment, on the other hand, is enshrined in the state constitution where it is very hard to change and carries more legal authority than statutory law. Proposition A is a competing tobacco tax increase with Amendment 3. It is a smaller increase, the tax would go to 23 cents per pack, as opposed to Amendment 3’s 77 cents, and would fund transportation fixes instead of education. While 23 cents is a more modest tax, voters have spoken on this issue. In addition to voting down the 2012 tobacco tax I mentioned earlier, voters rejected two other tax hikes in the 10 years before that. Maybe it’s time to listen to the voters and explore other solutions to funding and revenue, like raising more revenue with jobs and a strong economy rather than overtaxing our citizens. A “Yes” vote would increase the tobacco tax to 23 cents while a “No” vote would reject the tax.
As always, I welcome your ideas, questions and concerns about Missouri government. You may contact me at the State Capitol as follows: (573) 751-1480, firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Sen. David Sater, Missouri State Capitol, Room 419, Jefferson City, MO 65101.