$88 million lands in state from tobacco settlement
Dozens of schoolchildren passed through the state Capitol on Thursday, oblivious to the historic presentation Attorney General Mark Pryor was making there for their benefit.
Pryor announced that $88.3 million -- the first installment of Arkansas' share of the national tobacco Master Settlement Agreement -- arrived Thursday.
"This has been a long time coming," Pryor said. "In Arkansas, every dime goes toward health care and health-related issues."
The landmark November 1998 agreement involved major tobacco companies and 46 states and five territories. Attorneys general from those areas went after tobacco companies with unprecedented coordination and zeal, in part, for marketing tobacco products to youth.
That aspect of the state's battle with tobacco companies was not missing from Pryor's press conference. "For Arkansas' children" was inscribed on the mock check that Pryor handed state Treasurer Jimmie Lou Fisher.
Children in the Natural State are expected to benefit from the settlement money through new programs that will teach them about the health dangers of using tobacco products.
Other programs are aimed at helping the rest of the state's population by expanding health services, tobacco-related medical research and tobacco-use prevention efforts.
For its share, Arkansas is expected to receive $1.6 billion over a 25-year period.
The state will receive a total of about $119 million this year, with a second payment of $31 million expected April 16.
Starting next year, however, the state will receive a single annual payment of $55 million to $65 million. The money is expected to fluctuate each year on the basis of tobacco companies' sales.
Now that the settlement money is starting to arrive, Pryor's office as well as offices of other state attorneys general will be monitoring other sections of the tobacco settlement, which includes provisions how tobacco products are marketed and sold, said Michael Teague, a spokesman for Pryor.
The state attorneys general also will work to ensure tobacco companies make their payments to states, Teague added.
The Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act of 2000 -- a measure formerly known as Initiative Act 1, which Arkansas voters approved Nov. 7 -- will determine how the money will be spent.
"I think the community is excited about the possibility to improve the state's health," said Dr. Joe Thompson of Little Rock, lead author of the settlement act and a pediatrician at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. "Tobacco is our No. 1 problem. It causes heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer."
Under the plan, $100 million of this year's settlement money will go into a trust fund called the Arkansas Health Century Trust. Planners hope the fund, which is projected to have a balance of $799 million by 2028, will fund the settlement act's other health programs long after the tobacco settlement funding ends 25 years from now.
The remainder of this year's tobacco settlement money -- about $19 million -- will go toward starting the act's health programs in July, provided the state Legislature approves an appropriations bill for the programs.
They include tobacco-related medical research and tobacco-use prevention and smoking cessation programs, which are expected to be fully funded in July 2002.
A Medicaid expansion program will expand prenatal care for low-income pregnant women. It will also provide prescription drugs and personal care for the elderly and basic insurance for the working poor, Thompson said.
The money will also pay bond debt toward new bioscience research buildings at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock and at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and the new School of Public Health in Little Rock, which is expected to be jointly operated by UAMS and the state Department of Health.
Settlement funds will also create regional centers on aging and area health-education centers in the Mississippi Delta.
"It's historic for Arkansas," said Bill Paschall, director of the Coalition for a Healthy Arkansas Today, a group that includes more than 150 health and civic organizations and businesses in the state that supported the 2000 act.
"It's going to give the people of Arkansas the opportunity to try to improve their health as well as improve the economy and make it a better place to live and work," Paschall added.