California gets first check from tobacco pact
SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec 15 (Reuters) - California has received its first slice of the $206 billion national tobacco settlement, with two more checks set to follow by next April, a spokesman for the state's attorney general said Wednesday.
The $315 million check is the first installment of California's estimated $1 billion a year payout from the 25-year national settlement reached in November 1998 between the tobacco industry and 46 states.
``I can confirm the state has received an allotment of money for the tobacco settlement,'' Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said in a telephone interview.
The state government of California is slated to receive 50 percent of the total payout, with the state's counties getting 45 percent and the cities of Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco sharing the remaining 5 percent.
The state's half of the first payment was deposited Tuesday in the general fund and has no restrictions on how it can be spent, Barankin said.
The lack of restrictions has stirred controversy and prompted a statewide coalition to prepare a ballot initiative that would require state and county governments to use California's tobacco cash on health care.
But California Gov. Gray Davis has said that he wants to keep control over how the money is spent in order to maintain fiscal flexibility in case of an economic downturn.
Some of the state's counties have also mulled spending their tobacco money on things other than health care. Orange County, for example, voted in November to use its windfall to reduce debt and build new jails.