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Thursday, March 20, 2003

Gov. Gets Compromise Tobacco Legislation

Journal Staff Report
    SANTA FE Legislators on Wednesday approved a compromise measure to divert New Mexico's share of a multistate settlement with tobacco companies for the next four budget years.
    The House approved the bill (conference committee report for SB 298) 35-26, while the Senate passed the bill on a 22-14 vote. A six-person team of House and Senate members hammered out the compromise.
    The bill goes to Gov. Bill Richardson, who wanted to divert the funds for an unlimited amount of time and spend an estimated $57 million in a separate tobacco settlement permanent fund.
    The Senate initially approved Richardson's proposal, but the House changed it to a two-year diversion and considered the tobacco settlement permanent fund part of the state's reserve funds.
    The compromise measure approved late Wednesday calls for a four-year diversion of funds and considers the tobacco settlement permanent fund part of the state's reserve funds. Legislators would be able to transfer money from the permanent fund into the state's general fund if New Mexico faced a budget shortfall.
    The state currently divides its estimated $40 million annual share of tobacco settlement revenues. Half is deposited in an interest-bearing permanent fund, while the other half goes toward health care and education programs, including tobacco-use cessation and prevention programs.