Senate panels allots tobacco funds for health lab, not savings
A state Senate committee has voted to spend, rather than save, part of Missouri's tobacco settlement revenues.
The panel endorsed a budget bill Monday that would build a new Department of Health laboratory and put more money into anti-tobacco efforts, research and early childhood programs.
To get the extra money, the Senate Appropriations Committee scrapped a House-passed plan to put $125 million from the tobacco settlement into a savings account.
"There's nothing wrong with an endowment, but I don't think it's right at this time," because the state has a lot of needs, said Senate Appropriations Chairman John Russell, R-Lebanon.
Lawmakers are trying to decide what to do with $374 million in tobacco settlement revenues that Missouri expects to receive in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Over 25 years, the state estimates it will receive $4.5 billion from the national settlement with tobacco companies over states' tobacco-related health costs. A spending blueprint for future years is being considered in separate legislation.
For the upcoming fiscal year, both the House and Senate proposals would allocate $89.3 million to an income tax credit for elderly people's prescription drug costs. And both would spend more than $97 million on health care, mostly to reimburse hospitals for costs.
The two versions also agree on the general spending categories of anti-tobacco efforts, early childhood programs and life sciences research.
The House plan allots about $14 million to each of those categories -- less than half of what Gov. Bob Holden had proposed -- in order to set aside $125 million in the savings account. The endowment would remain untouched until it grew to $1 billion.
Under the Senate plan, nearly $35 million would go to life sciences research, more than $32 million to anti-tobacco programs and $29.5 million to early childhood initiatives.
While higher than what the House called for, the research money is still less than the nearly $46 million proposed by Holden.
The Senate's anti-tobacco spending is slightly higher than Holden's and its early childhood spending matches the governor's recommendation.
The Senate version also would spend $25 million for construction of the new state health laboratory in Jefferson City -- something that was not mentioned in either Holden's original proposal or the House version.
The Health Department previously was allotted $2.3 million to plan and design a new laboratory, but Holden has not yet released that money because of a state budget shortfall.
A new laboratory is needed because the current one is in a flood plain, lacks proper security and is configured according to a 1979 design, making it outdated, said Susan Jenkins, the Health Department's legislative liaison.
Left out of both the House and Senate versions was $23 million that Holden had requested to start a new prescription drug program as a replacement to the current income tax credit.