Minnesota's $6.1 billion windfall from settling its tobacco lawsuit could set up a free-for-all at the state Capitol.
On Monday, lawmakers were still sorting through the details of the agreement announced Friday by state Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III and the tobacco companies.About 3 percent has been set aside for smoking cessation and prevention programs. The rest is headed for the state's general treasury, over 25 years, with no strings attached.
"I expect there are going to be huge fights in the Legislature about how to spend the money," said Humphrey aide Eric Johnson.
If Humphrey has his way, about $650 million paid during the first few years go into a public health foundation directed by the state's major anti-tobacco organizations.
Judy Knapp, executive director of the Smoke-Free 2000 Coalition, which would have a seat on the foundation under Humphrey's plan, said she would buy anti-tobacco advertising and increase anti-smoking efforts in schools.
"I think for the first time in history in this state we have an opportunity to reverse the trends," she said. "We may be able to prevent another generation from becoming addicted."
Lawmakers are unlikely to consider any tobacco legislation before the 1999 legislative session. But some are already skeptical of Humphrey's plan.
"I'm always nervous about setting up little pots of monies for special causes," said Sen. Don Samuelson, chairman of the Health and Family Security Budget Division. "I think the Legislature ought to determine where the money goes."
Tobacco companies agreed to pay an additional $469 million to the state's co-plaintiff, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
Blue Cross CEO Andrew Czajkowski said Monday the company plans to fund programs for members and nonmembers to help smokers quit, and to fund prevention programs to keep youths from smoking. A 30 percent reduction in smoking among its members could save Blue Cross $350 million over the next 10 years, he said.