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Lobbyist Money Help  

New Plan Proposed for Tobacco Money

January 13, 1999
By: Jennifer Lutz and Chris Pelikan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Two St. Louis County Republican senators are creating their own stance by proposing an alternate option for the use of the $6.7 billion tobacco settlement.

Franc Flotron and Betty Sims announced Wednesday their goal of creating a special fund to house the settlement.

"The revenue should be put in an escrow account and we should spend only the interest gained," said Flotron who cosponsored a somewhat different proposal in December, which would place the fate of the settlement in the hands of Missouri's voters.

"The two proposals are not mutually exclusive, it's just another option," added Flotron.

However, Senate Republican Leader Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, and other GOP lawmakers argue the tobacco settlement funds are covered by the state's Hancock spending lid that would require the money be reimbursed to the taxpayers.

Gov. Mel Carnahan's administration Hancock does not cover the settlement money. Both the governor and attorney general argue the money should be used to address issues of health care.

Sims suggested that while that legal dispute concerning Hancock works its way through the legal process, the state could use interest from the money.

"The state should use interest from the account to fund possible education programs," stated Sims. She continued, saying the settlement's intent is to benefit children.

Despite Flotron's proposal, he maintains the ultimate decision should be in the hands of Missouri voters. "There should be multiple options and since it's a big decision it should go back to the voters," commented Flotron.

Meanwhile, the state's effort to join in the national tobacco settlement remains stalled in court.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Jimmie Edwards postponed his decision 45 days during a December hearing, because state hospitals and residents also wanted part of the settlement.

"Sen. Flotron is putting the cart before the horse. There are going to be serious legal challenges from city and county government, as well as congress for the funding. Senator Flotron may want to establish a fund, but we don't have a dime to put in it yet," argued area Representative Chuck Graham, D-Columbia.

Other area representatives expressed more optimism, however, regarding the settlement.

"I agree with [the escrow fund] approach," stated Tim Harlan, D-Columbia. Much like other democrats, Harlan also supports the use of tobacco money for health care issues.

Rep. Vicky Riback-Wilson, D-Columbia, agreed with Harlan, adding "The money should be used for health-education prevention."

Wednesday's proposal was met with fair support from both democrat and Republican leaders. However, the issue of the tobacco settlement's use and who decides upon it is still in question.