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A vote for Proposition B is a vote for Missouri schools and our future

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dear Editor:

Missouri schools are facing a tough budget environment. In recent years, we have seen severe cuts in transportation funding, the elimination of the career ladder program, and cuts to early childhood programs. At the same time, the foundation formula that supports all Missouri schools is underfunded by about $400 million. Our administrators, teachers and staff have been resourceful and resilient in dealing with dwindling revenues. Voters have a chance on Nov. 6 to increase education funding, help reduce smoking and benefit the Missouri economy, by voting in favor of raising the country's lowest tobacco tax.

But we're from the Show-Me State. We need cold hard evidence that shows revenue generated from the tobacco tax increase will go where we intend. Look no further than 1982's Proposition C, in which voters approved a one cent statewide sales tax for K-12 schools. Concerned about how that new revenue would be used, Missourians ensured the money wouldn't be squandered but rather is sent directly to local school districts based on average daily attendance rates and counted as local rather than state revenue. In 2010-2011, more than $700 million was distributed directly to Missouri schools as a result of Proposition C. And that's why this is the model for the safeguards included in Proposition B.

Prop C shows that Missourians can vote for a tax increase and see that funding go directly to the entities for which it was intended. Any feigned concern by tobacco companies about how Prop B funds will be used are simply, and sadly, scare tactics meant to preserve their ability to sell addictive and deadly products. Prop B includes significant safeguards to ensure the $283 million generated annually through a 73-cent tax increase per pack of cigarettes and increased taxes on other tobacco products is spent as the voters intended. Safeguard examples include specifically allocating the money for identified purposes; provisions that identify the funds as "new money" rather than a substitute for previous general revenue commitments; and annual audits by the state auditor and a public reporting of findings.

Most importantly, the organizations that formed the Show Me a Brighter Future coalition are in it for the long haul. They have proven their resolve by coming together to bring this important issue before voters, and they have committed to vigilant oversight of how the new funds are spent and ensuring they are used as voters intend.

Our future depends on a healthy, educated workforce. 8,600 Missouri kids become daily smokers each year and Missouri currently doesn't fund programs to help adults quit and keep kids from ever starting. This is in a state with the lowest tax in the country on a deadly and addictive product. Taxpayers are already covering the costs of tobacco use in Missouri where tobacco tax receipts total $95 million annually while Medicaid costs associated with tobacco use total $532 million annually.

Prop B provides much-need funding for education and promotes a healthier Missouri with a stronger economy. I urge voters to consider our future, and vote YES for Proposition B.

Roger Kurtz

Executive Director

Missouri Association of School Administrators

Jefferson City, Mo.