Schools get large part of tobacco settlement
COLUMBUS -- Money from Ohio's $10.1 billion tobacco settlement would pay for as much as $4.5 billion in school construction projects through 2025 under a plan the General Assembly is expected to pass today.
The school construction proposal was the most significant change in a compromise spending bill that passed a joint House-Senate committee Tuesday evening. The panel's 5-1 vote ends a monthslong deadlock between Republican lawmakers in the House and the Senate over the best way to spend the money.
Ohio is projected to get up to $10.1 billion from tobacco companies, the state's share of a historic national lawsuit settlement. Tobacco companies will provide the money in installment payments over the next 25 years.
School construction is guaranteed to receive $2.5 billion through 2012 and up to $2 billion more from 2013 through 2025.
Although school construction would receive funding over the life of the settlement payments, anti-smoking, public health and biomedical research programs did not fare as well. Those initiatives are guaranteed a percentage of tobacco funds for only the next 12 years. After 2013, the plan simply encourages future legislatures to continue the funding.
That spurred some objections from Democratic lawmakers on the committee.
You have a priority to make a 26-year commitment to schools, but you don't have a priority to make a 26-year commitment to biomedical research, and you don't have a priority to make a 26-year commitment to public health, said Sen. Eric D. Fingerhut, D-Cleveland.
Mr. Fingerhut's comments and no vote sent a signal Senate Democrats will likewise vote against the plan today. But the House Democrats' committee member, Rep. Peter Lawson Jones, D-Cleveland, had a different message.
Clearly the bill could be improved in several significant respects, Mr. Jones said. Given the current climate in the General Assembly, this is probably the best possible measure that could leave this body and become law.