McCaskill backs Mo. cigarette tax increase

Sen. Claire McCaskill (Reuters photo via DayLife)

COLUMBIA, Mo. — U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said Wednesday she supports efforts to raise Missouri’s cigarette tax to help close the state’s budget shortfall.

“I think it is embarrassing we have the lower cigarette tax in the country,” McCaskill told reporters. “I would love to see us raise our cigarette tax and use that money for higher education.”

Democratic state lawmakers announced a proposal late last month that would raise the cigarette tax from 17 cents per pack, the lowest in the nation, to $1.095, nearly 40 cents lower than the national average.

McCaskill offered her support while condemning Missouri House Republican Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey’s budget’s proposal that would significantly cut funding from the state’s blind health care program.

“I’m not sure Missourians want us to do more for higher education by throwing blind people under the bus,” McCaskill said, calling the cigarette tax a “much better” alternative to the blind health care cuts.

The proposal is not likely to get anywhere in the legislature. Leaders in both chambers have dismissed the idea, and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has been mum on the issue.

Without hope in the legislature, supporters have been approved to circulate two petitions to place the issue on the 2012 ballot. One of the initiative petitions, endorsed by University of Missouri curator Warren Erdman, calls for the funds raised from the tax to be directed to higher education.

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