Steve Barth is peeved.
He asked his fellow state lawmakers to OK using $1 million for an anti-tobacco campaign aimed at kids.They OK'd only $250,000.
His bill earmarking the $250,000 for the anti-tobacco campaign went to Gov. Mike Leavitt for his signature. The governor refused to sign it, letting it go into law but without his endorsement.
And now, a "technical error" is preventing release of the $250,000 for the anti-tobacco campaign.
"I found out a couple of weeks ago," said Barth, a Democratic representative from Salt Lake City. "I was, needless to say, a little miffed."
"We are going to fund this. We will find a way to do it," Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, promised on Thursday. "Even if we have to go into a quick special session to do it."
Because of a last-minute technical error, the money is in a restricted account inaccessible to the state Health Department, which administers the program.
"It just makes us sick," said Beverly May of the American Cancer Society.
Beattie said legislative staffers are trying to determine if the problem can be corrected with bookkeeping. If not, lawmakers probably will meet in a "20-minute special session over the noon hour" to solve the problem.
"It's a technicality," Beattie said. "The money is there, everybody knows it's there. We will fix this."
The difficult history of funding for these anti-tobacco education programs does seem ironic in conservative Utah, whose leaders make no bones about their no-smoking philosophies.
Barth and others begged and cajoled lawmakers into a $250,000 appropriation for no-smoking programs as part of a 25-cent-a-pack cigarette tax passed during last year's Legislature.
This year, Barth started early, asking his colleague lawmakers to set aside $1 million of a $19 million tax haul from the cigarette-tax increase.
Mississippi, a tobacco-producing state, just passed a similar bill that gives $17 million to a similar campaign, he said. Arizona committed about $12 million to prevent smoking among its youngsters.
"No way," his colleagues said.
Barth did get HB404 through both houses of the Legislature, but the governor stated his disapproval for the idea when he let the bill go into law without his signature.
"I support the funding of media campaigns to prevent and control tobacco use by Utah's children. However, the earmarking of general tax revenues to specific programs is in most cases not good public policy," Leavitt wrote in a letter to legislative leadership.
Although they have had to beg for extra air time and volunteer hours, advocates believe the money has had a positive impact.
The anti-tobacco program, which focuses on adolescents and is called "The Truth for Youth," has been tremendously successful, May said.
Advertisements on certain radio and television stations feature comments from real Utah kids who are trying to kick the habit. They are powerful and emotional ads.
Better yet, said May, kids are listening to them. Adults are not, which means the ads have been placed appropriately to reach young people.
"If you put them on a news channel at 6 p.m., you're not going to get the high-risk kids," May explained. "So you put them on a station that I, for example, wouldn't listen to."
The next campaign phase is to bring in the parents, schools, churches and communities in a multi-component approach suggested by the U.S. surgeon general.
That's where the current funding problem becomes a nightmare, said Barth.
The money doesn't actually move into the health department's hands until July 1, but the uncertainty of the past several weeks has put the project on hold.
"That's a travesty," he said.
"This kind of programming is not something you do hit-and-miss," Barth said. "To start and stop it delays the message."
May said it's sad that of the $19 million collected from cigarette tax increases, "the small pittance we received was $250,000."
This year, many groups and individuals have put in hours of volunteer time, she said.
"But it takes money to buy air time, and it takes money to put (information sheets and pamphlets) in parents' hands," she said.
"It's critical they get this figured out."