House approves plan for tobacco money
MONTPELIER - The Vermont House on Thursday overwhelmingly - but reluctantly - approved a plan to spend about one-third of the state's tobacco money on programs to keep young people from smoking and to get smokers to quit.
By a vote of 128 to 13, the House supported the plan that would allocate $16.5 million of the $24.5 million the state is due to receive this year on other state health care programs such as helping to pay for health insurance for low-income Vermonters.
It was that aspect of the bill that upset some lawmakers who felt the state budget shouldn't become dependent on tobacco money as a source of funding for non-tobacco programs.
"What we have set ourselves up to do forever is to borrow money in anticipation of money we're not sure we're going to get," said Rep. Malcolm Severance, R-Colchester. "I am concerned what we have done is a very shoddy job overall."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta suggests that a state the size of Vermont dedicate between $8 million and $16 million a year on anti-tobacco programs.
While many lawmakers objected to provisions of the bill, they still voted in favor of it.
"I do feel it makes the best of a bad situation," said Rep. Jerry Kreitzer, D-Rutland. "It keeps Vermonters involved in the process" of reducing smoking.
Many lawmakers would like to see more than $8 million spent on the anti-smoking programs.
The tobacco money is Vermont's share of a 1998 settlement 46 states reached with the tobacco industry to recover money spent treating smoking-related illnesses of people on the Medicaid insurance program. The state is due to receive the money for decades to come, although the exact amount that will come in is uncertain.
The bill approved by the House Thursday sets up a board to manage a trust fund that will be filled over the years with a portion of the annual tobacco payment. The goal is to set up a $100 million fund that will generate enough money pay for future anti-smoking programs when the tobacco money runs out.
The $8 million will fund school-based tobacco education programs, a variety of programs through the Health Department, fund the trust and pay for the board.