Bloomberg Questions City Plans for Use of Tobacco Settlement
Michael R. Bloomberg said last night that he was "uncomfortable" with the idea of New York City's coffers being enriched with money from the national settlement against tobacco companies, saying that in effect taking the money encouraged smoking.
At a health care forum in Midtown attended by every mayoral candidate except Herman Badillo, each candidate was asked if he would earmark a larger portion of the city's take of the $1 billion a year that the state is expected to receive over the next 25 years in tobacco settlement money for health care.
While most of the candidates â€” some of whom have already eyed the $6.7 billion that the city would take in each year for health care projects â€” eagerly replied yes, Mr. Bloomberg raised doubts about whether the city should benefit from the settlement at all. "There is something that makes me uncomfortable about taking tobacco money," he said.
His spokesman, Edward Skyler, when asked later in the evening if Mr. Bloomberg was insinuating that he would reject such funds, said that was not the case. "He was saying that if you follow the money," Mr. Skyler said, "companies have to be liquid enough to pay the settlement, which means that people will have to keep smoking. It is one way of looking at it. He is antismoking. But he didn't say he wouldn't take it, he just raised the question."
New York City has already opted to sell bonds backed by the 25-year revenue stream, rather than waiting for the money. The city has sold hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds, and while it has committed to using a portion of the tobacco money for health care purposes, much of it has also been committed to capital construction projects across the city. Many health care advocates would like to see a large percentage of the money used just for health care needs, like helping the public hospitals stay solvent and insuring those without health coverage.
Peter F. Vallone, the City Council speaker and another candidate for mayor, reiterated his desire to use the settlement money for health care purposes. He proposes that the city pay the premiums now paid by parents whose children do not qualify for Medicaid but are eligible for a low-cost insurance program, and for it to pick up the tab on a far-reaching prescription drug program for older people. His plan calls for elderly New Yorkers with incomes of up to $43,000 a year to participate in a city-subsidized drug plan.
Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president and another Democratic candidate, last night also mentioned his desire to see more of the settlement money go for health care. He said the money could be used to treat the uninsured and to provide asthma nebulizers in schools.