Tobacco funds may cover shortfall

Sunday, July 7, 2002

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin lawmakers are considering using the state's entire share of the national tobacco settlement -- once estimated to be worth $5.9 billion -- to help cover a one-time budget deficit.

The settlement, signed in 1998 by tobacco companies involved in a class action lawsuit over health care costs, was set up to pay states over a 25-year period. About a dozen states, including Wisconsin, chose to sell the future profits to investors, leaving them only a fraction of the promised money but making it available immediately.

Most of those states put the money into escrow accounts to earn interest. Wisconsin is the only one considering using all the profits for a one-time budget Band-Aid, said the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"It's fiscally irresponsible, and it blows what we could be using in the future to fight death and disease in Wisconsin," said Maureen Busalacchi, deputy director for SmokeFree Wisconsin.

The state Senate last week passed a bill that would use the remaining $825 million of that amount -- it had already approved using the other $450 million -- to solve a $1.1 billion deficit. The Assembly is expected to consider the proposal Monday.

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