Legislators set aside $23.5 million a year for smoking prevention

Sarah Wyatt AP in St. Paul Pioneer Press October 5, 1999

Lawmakers have tentatively agreed to use $23.5 million a year from the state's settlement with tobacco companies to prevent smoking in Wisconsin, starting in 2000.

The agreement would create a 20-member board that would decide how to spend the anti-smoking money from the state's $5.9 billion settlement.

The agreement was part of the 1999-2001 state budget compromise reached by Senate Democrats and Assembly Republicans and passed Monday by a legislative conference committee.

The state will get approximately $334 million over the next two years from Wisconsin's settlement with the tobacco industry for health costs related to smoking, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Lawmakers have agreed to spend about $2.5 million this year and budgeted $23.5 million each year after that for grants to public and private organizations for anti-smoking education programs and advertising.

That money would also be used to provide $1 million each year to the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and at least $1 million for the Thomas T. Melvin program, which coordinates anti-smoking and cessation programs.

The rest of the money from the tobacco settlement would be used to pay for other programs such as Badgercare and community health insurance.

Badgercare, the state's health insurance program for uninsured low-income families, would get $32.8 million from the tobacco settlement over the next two years, according to Assembly Majority Leader Steven Foti, R-Oconomowoc.

The budget agreement still needs approval from the state Senate, the Assembly and Gov. Tommy Thompson.

The agreement was a good compromise between what each side wanted to spend on smoking prevention, Foti said. Over the next two years, Assembly Republicans wanted to spend about $15 million and Senate Democrats' hoped to allocate $31 million.

Republicans wanted to withhold spending large sums of money until they could make sure the smoking prevention programs worked, Foti said. ``We wanted them to be able to prove their successes before we were willing to put dollars into it.''

On the other side, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, D-Madison, said the state would have benefitted from putting more money into the tobacco prevention fund.

``It's going to take some time to undo the hard work that has been done to get kids to start smoking,'' Chvala said, but he added that the agreement was ``a good start.''

David Ahrens, director of the Tobacco Free Wisconsin Coalition, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended spending $32 million on smoking prevention in the state.

While lawmakers did not go that far, Ahrens said spending $23.5 million a year would mean spending $5 a year for each resident, which could make a dent in the number of smokers in the state.

``A million people are smoking and many more tens of thousands are starting to smoke,'' Ahrens said. ``It's a program that makes good sense, especially when you look at what we spend on other programs for disease prevention.''


Budget highlights: County wins in budget, Jensen says Budget compromise a boon for local governments Panel OKs $41 billion spending plan

By Steven Walters Milwaukee Journal Sentinel October 5, 1999

Madison - After two weeks of closed meetings, a legislative conference committee on Monday approved a "take-it-or-leave-it" state budget fat with tax cuts, special-interest breaks and other major changes.

Eight legislative leaders - four Assembly Republicans and four Senate Democrats - unanimously finished work on the $41 billion, 1999-2001 budget that should have been passed July 1. State government has run since midyear at the spending pace of last year.

Because the package - 440 pages of fine-print details - is the work of a Senate-Assembly conference committee, legislators cannot change it in any way.

Although Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson can rewrite parts of the budget with vetoes, an aide said Thompson was consulted on final details worked out in recent days.

The proposed budget will touch every Wisconsin resident in some way - through property and income tax cuts; by spending $23.5 million in tobacco industry payments to convince people to quit smoking and persuade children not to start; by making it harder for 16-year-olds to get driver's licenses; and by adding home health care funds for older people who are too well to be in nursing homes.

"I think we have an outstanding package," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D-Madison), who, with Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R-Town of Brookfield), personally negotiated final details announced Monday.

Chvala said the budget not only will cut taxes but will freeze University of Wisconsin System tuition next year, help vocational-technical colleges train youths for future jobs, and permanently pay for local recycling programs by raising taxes on large businesses and increasing "tipping fees" on waste going to landfills.

Jensen said taxpayers "can be proud" of the budget package that will cut their income and property taxes an average of $670 by the spring of 2002.

Still, two features of the final version of the budget - two weeks of secret talks that led to it, and its deficit spending in the year that begins in July - troubled some legislators Monday. The budget spends $443 million more than it takes in next year, for example.

"Two, maybe three legislators made the decisions that the rest of us are just supposed to like, I guess," Rep. Marlin Schneider (D-Wisconsin Rapids) said. "The rest of the Legislature was cut out of the process."

Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) said: "Wisconsin is known for openness and a government that works. No one can be happy with a budget that has gone on this long that had to be negotiated in the dark."

In response, Jensen said Chvala insisted on secret meetings, which began in earnest more than two weeks ago. Only a few legislators would meet at any one time, so no majority of the Assembly-Senate committee was ever present.

"I asked nearly every day that we meet in public and that we deliberate in public," Jensen said. "The answer has been 'No.' "

Chvala refused to answer a question from a Journal Sentinel reporter on the criticism from Schneider and Jauch. But responding to another reporter, he said, "At some point, we needed a budget, and we were willing to do whatever needed to be done in order to achieve a fair and balanced budget."