- Associated Press - Sunday, March 8, 2015

HANNIBAL, Mo. (AP) - Missouri should increase the state’s cigarette tax and use the money for college scholarships, Attorney General Chris Koster says.

Koster, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, presented the idea Saturday during the annual Democrat Days party gathering in Hannibal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1FvLC5S ) reported.

The proposal would piggyback on Treasurer Clint Zweifel’s proposal. Called “Missouri Promise,” Zweifel wants the state to pay tuition and fees at a Missouri college for students who earn a 3.0 grade point average in high school and perform community service.

Missouri’s current state cigarette tax is currently the lowest in the nation at 17 cents a pack. Although Koster didn’t provide exact numbers, he suggested the state’s tax should be closer to the middle of the scale nationally, which is around 90 cents a pack.

“Surely each of us values higher education for our young people more than we value cheap cigarettes,” Koster said.

Koster’s plan puts him at odds with the Raise Your Hand For Kids initiative, which is in the midst of a campaign to increase the tobacco tax by 50 cents to bring in an additional $250 million a year for early childhood education and health screenings for young children.

Koster said Saturday he believes early childhood education is important, but that it would be politically difficult to justify starting up new programs when the state already has a shortfall in K-12 funding.

He also argued part of the reason that cigarette tax referendum attempts have failed in Missouri three times since 2002 is that proponents have incorporated too many causes and tried to do too much.

“It was carved up in so many different ways that I think it confused voters,” he said. “We want to fix one problem at a time, and not take half-measures.”


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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