Lawmakers put lid on tobacco fund
A House panel voted unanimously Monday to recommend the state use its tobacco money exclusively for health and anti-smoking programs, in an attempt to prevent a raid on the stateÂ´s multi-million-dollar share of the national tobacco settlement.
The House State Affairs Committee sent a non-binding resolution to the House floor in hopes of guiding future decisions on how Idaho will spend millions of dollars each year as part of its share of the lawsuit settlement. Lawmakers resisted the temptation to tap the huge pot of money for things such as road projects or other spending not related to the tobacco problem, and said they hope their resolution will convince legislative budget writers to do the same.
The resolution doesnÂ´t tell the Legislature how to spend the money, but it does say the interest earnings from the fund should be spent on anti-tobacco programs such as teaching Idaho youngsters about the perils of smoking, combatting pro-smoking advertisements from tobacco companies, and on health programs for the stateÂ´s needy who are afflicted with smoking-related ailments.
Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, is one of the resolutionÂ´s sponsors. She said the resolution gives the state the flexibility to tailor spending of interest earned on the tobacco settlement money while keeping the overall fund intact. If projections hold, the fund will hit more than $72 million by the end of the fiscal year that ends in July. The state plans to spend only the interest earnings from the fund, which means $3.4 million this year, nearly $4 million next year, and more than $11 million in 2008.