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Lawmakers debate on how to use tobacco money

March 05, 2001

By: Maggie Rotermund

State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A bipartisan coalition in the Missouri House offered its own plan for the $4 billion tobacco settlement, in conflict with the plan already offered by Gov. Bob Holden.

Missouri House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, and House Minority Leader Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, held a joint press conference Monday touting the spirit of bipartisanship.

Twenty representatives, on both sides of the political aisle, came to show support for the bill.

"We have two bills: a state referendum that goes to a vote of the people and a bill that spends money on health care, smoking cessation and prevention, life sciences research and early childhood care and education," Hanaway said. "We want to gain the support of the people and get out of the Hancock Amendment."

The plan would place the issue before voters during a special election in November.

"We want to set up a $125 million endowment fund, which would be reinvested until the fund reached a billion dollars," Hanaway said. "The programs rely on the payments and this investment insures those payments, in the event that the tobacco companies go foreign or they go into bankruptcy."

Their plan conflicts with the plan previously laid out by Gov. Holden, who created a tobacco trust fund through an executive order and wanted to use settlment funds to cover the budget shortfall.

"I think that his leadership has been bold, although slightly in the wrong direction," Hanaway said.

Kreider said both plans are aimed at helping Missourians.

"We have similar objectives. We want to prevent kids from smoking and help adults to quit," Kreider said. "We want to deal with the health care needs of the state and put this money towards the future."

The legislation would be binding for 10 years. After that there would be a sunset, allowing future legislators to change the percentages if necessary.

The plan only deals with half of the initial onetime payment of $250 million. Missouri still expects to receive $3.5 billion during the next 25 years.

Holden said he was proud of the bipartisan effort of the representatives and said he hoped the legislature could work together to come to a consensus.

"For two years, there was no movement in the legislature," Holden said. Although the House plan conflicts with Holden's own, he was unwilling to place one plan over the other.

"It is part of the discussion. They have differences with my plan and I have differences with their plan that we have to discuss, but this is not the end of the process," Holden said.