Tobacco spending bill moves ahead
Senate approves endowment; House, Ventura are hurdles
JIM CAPLE STAFF WRITER
St. Paul Pioneer Press
April 10, 1999
Now comes the time for negotiations in non-smoke-filled rooms.
After four hours of debate and reams of amendments, the Senate overwhelmingly approved Majority Leader Roger Moe's tobacco settlement endowment proposal Friday afternoon. Despite the lengthy discussion, the bill passed 46-14, with nine Republicans joining the unanimous DFL support.
The bill would use $1.3 billion in one-time settlement payments for four endowment funds directed toward tobacco prevention, medical research, Minnesota families and senior citizens' prescription-drug coverage.
``I'm pleased,'' said Moe, who has said the tobacco settlement is the session's defining issue. ``We've got a bill funding tobacco prevention efforts to children, medical research and education, and the governor's families plan is intact.
``We made it through the very important first step today, and we'll take it from there.''
The bill will be included in the Senate's budget for health and family services but faces a stiff fight in the Republican-controlled House. The House opposes the endowment fund approach and wants to return the settlement to citizens in the form of tax relief.
There also could be some resistance from Gov. Jesse Ventura. His original proposal created four endowment funds with no money specified for prevention. Moe carried and amended that bill to mirror his own, and technically, that is the bill the Senate voted on Friday. While Ventura and Moe agree on the endowment concept and some of the uses, the governor isn't completely sold on the Senate plan.
``The governor is not comfortable with the Senate's allocations across the board, nor with the structure of the tobacco prevention endowment,'' said Ventura's spokesman, John Wodele. ``That is a real big concern.''
Moe predicted the issue won't be settled until the end of the session but said he was confident his plan will work out in the conference committee.
``All the dollar amounts are flexible. This is negotiable,'' Moe said. ``But I think we have a decent structure in place.''
The structure calls for 20.5 percent of the one-time tobacco payments (about $267 million) to go to medical research and education, 23 percent (about $299 million) for a family ``self-sufficiency'' fund, 6.75 percent for prescriptions for senior citizens (about $88 million) and 50 percent toward prevention (about $650 million).
The prevention fund was attacked several times on the floor Friday.
``Is there anyone in this country who doesn't know smoking is bad?'' said Sen. Tom Neuville, R-Northfield. ``Do we really think we're making a difference? A lot of people in my district think we're just setting up a lot of social programs that won't make a difference.
``In a way, this is counter-intuitive: The more you tell kids not to smoke, the more they'll do it.''
Sen. Ember Reichott Junge, DFL-New Hope, said the only way to effectively counter tobacco company marketing efforts is with a long-term, heavily funded effort. ``You can't prevent smoking by nickel-and-diming it,'' she said.
An amendment from Sen. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, that would have eliminated the prevention fund and use the money for tax relief instead was voted down 49-12.
At one point, Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud, proposed an amendment that would take half of the prevention fund money and use it for senior prescriptions. That was voted down but eventually brought back by applying money from the medical endowment toward it.
Ventura's budget already calls for using general fund money for senior prescriptions. Moe supports using general funds for that purpose as well.
The programs would use only the interest accrued from the funds (an estimated 5 percent of the principle). An amendment attached Friday sunsets the bill five years earlier than initially planned, in 2010 instead of 2015, when the principal would be returned to the general fund.
The bill also was amended with language restricting who may serve on the endowment boards.------------------------------------------------------
Jim Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 228-5453.