Friday, September 22, 2000

Patton puts out tobacco plan

Calls for changes in quota system

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Gov. Paul Patton said Thursday the federal government should buy lucrative tobacco-growing franchises from people who don't grow the crop, then turn them over to actual farmers.

        The idea is to create greener economic prospects for growers, some of whom have the added expense of leasing tobacco land from holders of the tobacco quotas. It also could lead to lower prices that would make domestic tobacco more attractive to cigarette manufacturers.

[photo] Gov. Paul Patton stands Thursday with Lt. Gov. Steve Henry (left) while proposing major changes in the tobacco quota system.
(Associated Press photo)
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        Mr. Patton's proposal may have been a trial balloon for the Clinton administration and Vice President Al Gore, who have been viewed as archenemies of tobacco. Mr. Gore, though, is now fighting his own presidential campaign, and a more moderate stand on tobacco could help him in Kentucky and North Carolina.

        The buyout plan would be directed at the two largest types of tobacco grown in the country — burley and flue-cured. Both are under a federal quota system, which restricts the amount of leaf that can be sold.

        Practices vary widely, but a lot of people who own tobacco quotas lease their production quota to others to grow. Leasing costs can add 60-80 cents per pound to the cost of growing. A pound of tobacco brings $1.80 to $2 at auction.

        Under Mr. Patton's proposal, quota owners who did not grow their crop this year would be compensated $20 per pound over 20 years and their quota would be turned over to the actual grower. The result would be to put the quota in the hands of the producer.

        While Mr. Patton said he would keep the federal price support for tobacco, the price would decline to reflect the new economic arrangement. Cigarette manufacturers have begun importing more tobacco.

        Mr. Patton compared help for farmers hurt by federal policies that deter smoking with programs that help manufacturing workers whose jobs are lost through changes in federal trade policies.

        Mr. Patton said he does not have a commitment from Mr. Clinton or Mr. Gore to support a buyout, but thinks both are agreeable to a study of the idea.

        “We share the governor's interest in ensuring that tobacco growing communities remain vital, and we will take a hard look at his proposal,” White House spokesman Jake Siewert said.

        Gore campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway said Mr. Patton had offered a “constructive suggestion” for dealing with public health and tobacco economy issues, and Mr. Gore “looks forward to working with him and fully exploring the details.”

        Kentucky's two U.S. senators, both Republicans, were critical. Sen. Jim Bunning called the idea “a cruel, election-year ploy” that was “totally political.”

        Said Sen. Mitch McConnell: “They must think we're total fools. ... It's clear nothing is going to happen before the election. You always set up a commission when you want to delay.”


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