Tobacco-plan petition 1,000 signatures short
Supporters of the Committee for a Healthier Arkansas fell more than 1,000 signatures shy this week of reaching the threshold needed to get their tobacco money spending proposal on the ballot.
But the coalition's campaign manager said Wednesday that the group has submitted an additional batch of names for the secretary of state's office to count in determining whether to certify the proposal for the ballot.
Renie Rule, a spokesman for Secretary of State Sharon Priest, said she expects the committee to have enough signatures to get the $1.6 billion spending plan before voters in the election Nov. 7.
The group needs to have 56,481 signatures from registered Arkansas voters on the petition for the proposed initiated act to be placed on the ballot.
The campaign manager, Carl Bayne of Little Rock, said the committee turned in 70,153 signatures July 6.
The secretary of state's office found 55,240 of them valid, leaving the committee more than 1,000 names short.
Bayne then turned in about 20,500 signatures to make up the difference.
Rule said her office will go through those names after studying petitions for two other proposals for the November ballot. She said office workers also must finish going through the names on petitions supporting proposals that would allow casino gambling in Arkansas and that would remove the state sales tax from used goods. About 25 extra temporary helpers have been hired.
Sorting the petitions will be finished Aug. 7, she said.
Problems with the petition signatures include names that can't be read, sheets of names that aren't notarized, a person not registered to vote or the voter has moved and hasn't changed the place of registration, Rule and Bayne said.
Most petition drives have similar success rates for gathering signatures. About 75 percent of the signatures are valid, Rule said.
The committee's proposal outlines how the state's share of the settlement of a lawsuit between 46 states and the major tobacco companies will be spent. The state is projected to receive about $1.6 billion over 25 years, but the settlement allows for annual payments to go up or down, depending on inflation, tobacco product sales and other things.
The spending plan backed by the committee calls for building health research institutions, financing smoking prevention programs, spending on the Medicaid program and establishing a trust fund.
Attorney General Mark Pryor has expressed concern about the proposal because it contains a bond issue for the buildings. If the money stops coming from tobacco companies, the state will still have to pay off those bonds, he has said. The committee has said the trust fund could be used in an emergency to pay the bond obligation.
The committee consists of health-care and business organizations such as the Farm Bureau, Arkansans for Drug Free Youth and the University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences.