Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Panel Tables Bill To Shift Tobacco Funds to Medicaid
By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday unanimously tabled a bill to make all of the state's future tobacco settlement revenues available to pay for the escalating costs of Medicaid and other programs.
The committee could reconsider the measure (HB 262) at a later date.
Rep. Gail Beam, an Albuquerque Democrat and committee chairwoman, said she did not want to endorse the bill without a sunset provision to end the diversion of funds after a certain time period.
"I think we need some more ironclad language to make this a very temporary solution," Beam said.
After the vote, Rep. Max Coll, a Santa Fe Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the committee likely wants to add a provision to end the diversion of funds after two years. Coll said he would find that change acceptable.
Gov. Bill Richardson supports broader measures to eliminate the state's permanent fund for New Mexico's share of money from multistate litigation against tobacco companies. He wants to transfer its estimated $57 million into the state's general fund.
Those measures also would abolish the state's tobacco settlement program fund and divert future contributions to the general fund. Last week, the Senate narrowly approved such a measure (SB 298) while the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee tabled a similar proposal (HB 244).
Coll said fellow House members probably are "pretty cool" to Richardson's proposal.
Coll said he believes Richardson will follow through on his commitment to continue funding tobacco cessation and prevention programs but worried about what future governors might do.
"I do think that they need a tobacco cessation program that goes off into the future for quite a ways in order to get people to stop smoking and using tobacco," Coll said.
Coll's bill would divert all of the state's future tobacco settlement revenues into the tobacco settlement program fund.
The state expects to receive nearly $43 million in tobacco settlement funds during this fiscal year, which ends June 30.