SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez’s decision to strike down a proposed cash infusion into New Mexico’s tobacco settlement fund has left some anti-cancer advocates steamed.
During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers voted to use the tobacco fund as a money source to temporarily bolster the state’s cash-strapped lottery scholarship program and help pay for early childhood initiatives.
To offset the diverted funding, legislators called for $50 million to be transferred from the state’s cash reserves into the tobacco fund.
Although Martinez signed the legislation into law last week, she used her line-item veto authority to delete the transfer, saying in her message to lawmakers that such a move would have financially handcuffed the state.
“Keeping that money in the (cash reserves) provides greater flexibility to respond to an unexpected decrease in revenue,” Martinez wrote in her message.
The governor’s finance and administration secretary, Tom Clifford, said having such fiscal flexibility is important with the state facing the possibility of additional federal budget cuts. He also pointed out that the funding diversion is for only one year.
However, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network warned Monday that the tobacco fund will be endangered without the cash infusion.
“By vetoing the transfer of monies to the tobacco permanent fund, Gov. Martinez created a self-imposed obstacle for future health and tobacco control efforts in the state,” said Lynda Evans Ricci, the state lead ambassador for the group.
The tobacco fund was created in 2000 as the result of a legal settlement between most states, including New Mexico, and tobacco companies. It is intended to be used largely for tobacco education and other health-related programs.
New Mexico has received nearly $533 million in annual settlement payments since the fund’s inception, according to the State Investment Council, which manages the fund. However, no new money has been deposited into the tobacco fund since the 2008 budget year, according to the SIC.
The fund had a balance of $164.3 million as of the end of February. That was up from a fund balance of slightly more than $150 million in February 2012.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal