Antismoking efforts get half of tobacco endowments

Conrad deFiebre / Minneapolis Star Tribune May 18, 1999

It took an all-night negotiating session, but House and Senate conferees agreed early Monday to set aside $489 million in tobacco settlement proceeds for new efforts to combat smoking.

That makes up more than half of $968 million in tobacco money to be placed in health endowments. The principal for those endowments will be preserved and about 5 percent in annual investment earnings will be spent on programs.

Final legislative approval of the endowment accord came in the last hour of the scheduled session as the House passed an overall $6.4 billion health and human services bill on a 76-57 vote. The Senate earlier approved the bill 51 to 16.

Antitobacco activists already were praising the endowment agreement earlier Monday as a significant step toward combating Minnesota's rising teenage smoking rate.

"Parents and children will no longer be without tools to fight back against the deadly and pervasive messages of the tobacco industry," said Darla Havlicek of the Minnesota Council of the American Cancer Society.

Added Judy Knapp of the Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition: "This is a huge step forward in the effort to reduce what tobacco addiction costs all of us in lives and dollars. It's a great day for Minnesota's children, its families and its citizens."

The endowment deal was reached at 7:45 a.m. Monday, concluding a conference committee meeting that began at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Here are details:

< *   $387 million for a statewide tobacco-prevention endowment to be administered by the state Department of Health. That will generate $19 million a year for advertising and other tobacco-prevention efforts.

*   $203 million for a public health endowment. That will produce $10 million a year, half of it dedicated to community antismoking efforts, half to fighting other youth health risks.

*   $378 million for a medical education endowment. Proceeds of $19 million a year will be split among 16 clinical training sites around the state and the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center.

Missing from the agreement is funding for Gov. Jesse Ventura's proposed Minnesota Families Foundation, conceived as a way to help the poor get off welfare. Conferees said that plan will be on the table when the 2001 Legislature considers how to handle another $402 million in one-time tobacco payments.

A total of $1.3 billion in nonrecurring tobacco payments is due by 2003. The rest of the $6.1 billion settlement is to be paid in annual installments of more than $200 million for as long as tobacco is sold in Minnesota.

House majority Republicans originally had opposed tobacco endowments, preferring to distribute the windfall as tax relief. But they agreed to the plan earlier this month as part of an overall budget accord with the DFL Senate and Ventura.

"I still in my heart of hearts believe endowments are more like a slush fund," said Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester, a member of the conference committee. "But our job was to make it work, make it accountable and have outcomes we can measure."

-- Staff Writer Bill McAuliffe contributed to this report.