The Wright City R-II Board of Education last week passed a resolution to support Proposition B on the Nov. 6 ballot to increase the cigarette tax by 73 cents per pack, generating at least $280 million in additional revenue to fund K-12 education, higher education and smoking cessation programs.
The board voted 6-1 in favor of a resolution supporting Prop B. Laura Marsh voted no due to concerns with the district voting to support the measure.
“The school needs money, but I don’t know that I want to vote as a district on something that impacts the residents in our area who happen to smoke,” said Marsh. “It’s their personal decision, and I don’t know that I want to vote as a district to support taking any more money out of the pockets of people in our area who smoke.”
Board President Austin Jones said the tax could be an incentive for more residents to stop smoking, and to reap the related health benefits of being smoke-free.
“I don’t see a conflict in supporting something that would benefit students, the state and the health of our citizens,” said board Vice President Alice Klem.
Marsh questioned Prop B’s specific reference to a $565 cost born each year per-household in public expenditures related to tobacco use.
“How does this cost my household $565 a year?” Marsh asked.
“That’s the cost we pay in health care for people who have diseases related to smoking,” responded Klem.
Member Joe Butterfield equated the per-household cost of tobacco-related illnesses to hurricanes.
“We don’t have hurricanes here, but the cost of our insurance goes up just the same,” said Butterfield.
Superintendent Chris Gaines said the school district would receive between $166 and $248 per student from the additional taxes. Part of this money would be spent on student anti-smoking and cessation education, he said.
Misty Snodgrass, a spokesperson for Prop B and for the American Cancer Society, was cited in an earlier interview she had with the Missouri School Board Association as saying one of the chief benefits of raising the tax on tobacco is to prevent youth from ever starting to smoke.
“We know that if we do increase the tax, it will prevent youth initiation of smoking,” said Snodgrass. “And we know that most smokers want to quit, so this provides another incentive for all smokers to stop.”
Snodgrass noted that Missouri’s cigarette tax currently is the lowest in the country and that even with the proposed increase, the state would be in the bottom third of the country on tobacco taxes.
“I get it — it’s a ‘sin tax,’ but I’m also paying (in my insurance costs) for individuals without health care who choose to smoke,” Jones told the board.
“This vote isn’t about my personal opinion, but about what’s good for kids,” said Klem before making the motion to approve the resolution in support of Proposition B.
Also during the meeting, the board discussed Proposition K, following remarks made during the public comments portion of the meeting by retired Wright City educator and chairman of Putting Kids First Richard Lagemann. Although the board didn’t introduce a resolution to formally support the measure, board president Austin Jones told Lagemann he was, “preaching to the choir.”
Under Prop K, money generated from a quarter-cent sales tax would support a Community Children’s Services Fund to help children and youth in Warren County struggling with abuse, delinquency and mental illness.
Lagemann told the board that nearby counties have similar programs and have seen strong results, including double-digit drops in teen pregnancies, child abuse, runaways and juvenile offenses in St. Charles County.
“What we’re trying to do is to give our at-risk kids the same opportunity to progress and become successful taxpayers as opportunities provided to kids in our neighboring communities,” Lagemann told the board.
He underscored that Warren County residents are paying a Children’s Services tax for other counties when they shop in neighboring counties St. Charles, Lincoln, Franklin and St. Louis.
“In these counties, they are working with local schools and other organizations to address problems at the beginning, so they don’t become bigger problems later,” Lagemann said. “All our neighboring counties except for Montgomery County currently have this fund in place.”
“If you look across metrics for kids, from attendance and graduation to teen pregnancies, we are worse off than the other counties that have such a program,” said Gaines. “We’re paying for kids to receive these services when we shop in other counties, while our kids aren’t getting anything.”