SPENDING PLAN FORMS FOR TOBACCO SETTLEMENT: PRIORITY IS ON HEALTH; TOLL PHASE-OUT MULLED
By Ray Long Chicago Tribune Staff Writer October 07, 1999
SPRINGFIELD The first comprehensive plan emerging from he legislature for the state's $9.1 billion tobacco settlement windfall would pump more than half of the proceeds into health care and anti-smoking programs.
It also could provide a pot of cash to help phase out Illinois' toll roads, create a rainy-day fund for emergencies or even start a universal health-care program--if legislators dip into funds targeted for investments.
The plan, called Health First, is the product of Democratic state representatives. But in a move that may help gain bipartisan support, the proposal borrowed ideas from plans put forward by two Republicans, Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and Atty. Gen. Jim Ryan.
The money is Illinois' share of a nationwide settlement reached in 1998 between tobacco companies and 46 states that sought to recover health costs incurred in treating tobacco-related illnesses of their citizens. The states are expecting to receive payments from the settlement for the next 25 years.
While the Democratic proposal may end up as an opening gambit in the tobacco debate, proponents hope to vote on the measure in the fall veto session that begins next month.
Under the proposal, the state would invest half of the $411 million Illinois expects to receive during the first year of payments and put the other half into six funds to pay for a variety of health-related programs. The percentage of tobacco proceeds sent to health funds would increase in each of the next 25 years, according to a House Democratic staff memo obtained by the Tribune.
The proposal also would create an Illinois Tobacco Funds Authority to oversee the distribution of the funds.
One provision would let lawmakers redirect where they want to spend the funds, such as using some of the money to get rid of the tollway, a pet project of Gov. George Ryan.
But shifting money away from health-related uses would need a three-fifths, supermajority vote of the General Assembly.
Asked about using tobacco proceeds to phase out the tollway, Ryan spokesman David Urbanek said the governor has consistently wanted to use the money for health concerns. But if the General Assembly identified other uses, "that's something we'll have to discuss," Urbanek said.
The new tobacco proposal is authored by Chicago Democratic Reps. John Fritchey and Sara Feigenholtz, who co-chaired the special House committee reviewing the tobacco money issue.
In an interview, Fritchey played down the potential for using the tobacco funds for other uses. But the staff memo stated Fritchey has emphasized the savings "could achieve various long-term goals."
Since Ryan has passed his massive $12 billion Illinois FIRST program to upgrade the state's roads, transportation system, parks and school buildings, the two Democratic lawmakers will pitch Health First as a chance to turn the state's focus onto health issues.
The six funds established under the proposal would include money for programs aimed at controlling smoking; expanding state programs that give breaks to senior citizens on medicine and property taxes; and hiring more school nurses and counselors to administer primary and preventive health care.
The funds also would provide money for family health programs, such as prenatal and infant care, AIDS and HIV prevention, the state's children's health program, and rural and minority health initiatives; for university research on tobacco-related illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease; and to buy medical equipment, vehicles and other capital needs.
The proposal calls for 2 percent more of the annual tobacco money to be shifted into the health funds each year. After 25 years, 100 percent of the money would go into the health funds.
After 25 years, according to the plan, the state could have more than $7 billion in savings from investing a portion of the settlement unless the money is used for other programs or initiatives--a likely scenario. After only four years, the plan estimates the savings would total more than $1 billion, providing a tempting target for future legislative wish lists or pet projects.
Jim Ryan, who orchestrated the state's participation in the nationwide settlement with tobacco companies, has urged that half of the proceeds be used for public health programs, such as smoking prevention and cessation, with a particular emphasis on children.
Topinka has suggested investing the proceeds and spending only the interest.
Absent from the Democratic proposal was any provision that would return to taxpayers a portion of the money via annual rebates, a suggestion forwarded by Democratic Comptroller Dan Hynes.
He has proposed giving back $7 billion to taxpayers in the form of annual checks over 25 years and funneling the rest of the money into anti-smoking programs.