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Published: Wednesday, 3/13/2002

Senate panel OKs tobacco money plan


COLUMBUS - A Senate committee yesterday approved a plan to spend Ohio's hefty settlement with major tobacco companies over the next two years, but not before placing a $260 million IOU in the plan for anti-smoking efforts and tobacco farmers.

The plan, which goes to the full Senate today, is on the fast track in the General Assembly. The House began hearings on the measure yesterday.

The spending plan, which anticipates receiving about $10 billion over about 26 years, diverts $260 million over the next two years to help balance the state's recession-strained budget.

Of that, $224 million was originally meant for an anti-smoking media campaign and prevention efforts, $32 million for southern Ohio tobacco farmers and communities dependent on the tobacco crop, and nearly $4 million for health programs.

Democrats failed in their attempt to restore the funding at the expense of the rainy-day fund, essentially the state's savings account for emergencies.

“We're now confronted with a bill that's going to eliminate two years worth of payments into the anti-tobacco smoking effort, which was supposed to be the main reason why we sued the tobacco companies ...,” said state Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland). “We're doing irreparable damage to that effort.”

Democrat members of the committee also attempted without success to divert additional money slated for the attorney general's office for enforcement of the settlement agreement.

Under the bill, the state promises to repay the money to the affected funds in 2013 and 2014, although the General Assembly cannot commit future legislatures to keep that promise.

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