Panel OKs shift of tobacco endowment funds
A move to shift $250 million from a state youth tobacco-prevention endowment was approved on a party-line vote in a House committee Tuesday.
By a 6-4 vote, the Higher Education Finance Committee backed transferring the endowment fund's interest earnings -- about $23 million over two years -- to medical education at the University of Minnesota. The funds came from the state's $6.1 billion tobacco settlement and were set aside in 1999 over the opposition of House Republicans.
"The committee's decision to gut the state's tobacco-prevention fund is a direct attack on Minnesota's families and children," said Judy Knapp, executive director of the Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition.
The move is also opposed by Gov. Jesse Ventura and Senate DFLers, who would shore up the university's Academic Health Center with earnings from future tobacco settlement payments that House Republicans want to apply to tax relief. Chairwoman Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, an original sponsor of the tobacco-prevention endowment, joined other Republicans on the committee in voting for the measure sponsored by Rep. Doug Stang, R-Cold Spring. She said she had mixed emotions about it, but noted that the move would affect only a youth-oriented antitobacco advertising campaign called Target Market while leaving local funding to combat smoking untouched.
Meanwhile, two House DFLers said Leppik should resign from the board of the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco, a private, nonprofit group established with tobacco settlement funds, to "make way for someone more committed to the goal of youth smoking prevention." Leppik responded to Reps. Tom Pugh of South St. Paul, the minority leader, and Tom Huntley of Duluth by saying she wouldn't resign.
"I'm very supportive of antitobacco efforts," she said. "But I also understand the critical needs of the medical school."