Health & Wealth Update
1:51 pm
Wed August 1, 2012

Payday loans, minimum wage and cigarette tax one step closer to voters

Initiatives that would cap payday loan interest rates, raise the Missouri minimum wage, and raise the state's tobacco tax are a step closer to the November ballot, after a Missouri Supreme Court ruling yesterday. The three initiatives were tied up for months in court – one judge struck down the payday petition, ruling the ballot summary was "likely to deceive petition signers." But yesterday, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld all three ballot summaries.

I spoke with Robin Acree, director of Grass Roots Organizing, or GRO, one of the groups campaigning to cap the interest rates on payday loans at 36 percent, and to raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour, from $7.25.

"We need to make sure folks are getting paid a fair wage," she said. "The people that pay the minimum wage are the big corporations that are not good employers. Most places that are good employers -- small businesses -- realize, to keep good people, you couldn't pay them $7.25 an hour, they can't live on $290 a week."

GRO has also been pushing to crack down on payday lenders for years. "You don't have to charge 400 percent to make a profit," said Acree. The average APR on payday loans in Missouri is 444 percent.

But Acree said it's a tough campaign this year. I asked her about reports of canvassers being harassed by payday supporters while trying to collect signatures.

"We call them thug tactics," she said. When activists would hit the streets to gather signatures, she said, sometimes van-loads of people would appear and try to stop them from collecting signatures. In another incident, she said a campaigner's car was broken into outside of the campaign office -- the thief stole petitions containing thousands of signatures. 

"It was incredible. It was combat."

In May, supporters turned in more than 350,000 signatures to the Secretary of State, who has until next week to certify the signatures. About 100,000 valid signatures for each petition are needed to get on the November 6 ballot.

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