Friday, January 14, 2000

Tobacco windfall revised

This plan drops some categories

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Ohio's $10.1 billion tobacco settlement would pay for school construction and a stripped-down anti-smoking campaign under a plan being drafted by Senate Republicans.

        The proposal, floated this week, is the latest plan to spend the money Ohio won in a historic national settlement with tobacco companies. Ohio is set to get the $10.1 billion in annual installments over 26 years.

        The new plan, being drafted by legislative aides, would set aside $2.5 billion for school construction during the next 12 years. The Cincinnati Enquirer has learned the rest of the money would be deposited in the state treasury, with the interest earnings used to fund anti-smoking programs.

        Left out would be heavily lobbied initiatives to bolster biomedical research at the University of Cincinnati and other medical institutions, various public health programs and economic assistance for tobacco-growing communities.

        The proposal emerged after a Senate Republican caucus Wednesday. Details of the offer later were confirmed by Sen. Louis Blessing, R-Colerain Township.

        “This thing is being negotiated by a bunch of people,” Mr. Blessing said.

        Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, and Gov. Bob Taft discussed the plan on Wednesday. Mr. Finan declined to comment on the proposal, or its chances of passing.

        “We continue to discuss the matter, but I'm not going to get into what I talked to the governor about or what happened in our caucus,” Mr. Finan said.

        The plan would have to pass a joint House/Senate committee, be approved by rank-and-file lawmakers and signed by the governor before it could take effect. But it appears likely that it will end up as fodder for the latest round of negotiations over the unprecedented windfall.

        “I'm a believer in letting this simmer for a while,” said House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, R-Reynoldsburg.

        “People are kind of sounding each other out on this,” added Scott Milburn, Mr. Taft's spokesman. “I think it's pretty premature yet to talk about specifics.”

        Mr. Milburn said the governor still favors a 26-year plan that would divide the tobacco cash among school construction, new computers for schools, anti-smoking programs, biomedical research and tobacco farm subsidies.

        Of Mr. Taft's proposed spending initiatives, only school construction would be left untouched in the Senate Republicans' new plan.

        The governor's plan called for $1.5 billion to be spent on anti-smoking efforts, but relying on interest earnings alone would leave up to $100 million a year for those efforts.

        Efforts to allocate the money bogged down in the General Assembly after the Senate and House passed different versions of the spending blueprint.

        Senators barely passed a 12-year plan in November after conservatives failed to win support for spending all the money on tax cuts.

        The House countered with a 26-year plan that mirrored the governor's — except that it carved out some of the money to pay for a Democratic-authored plan to help needy senior citizens buy prescription drugs.


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