Budget board delays tobacco discussion | SummitDaily.com

Budget board delays tobacco discussion

DENVER – The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) just gave Summit Prevention Alliance’s Laurie Blackwell at least two more days on the job.

Wednesday, the JBC agreed to postpone discussion regarding using tobacco funds to fill next year’s anticipated budget deficit. Every day they delay discussion is another day Blackwell can spend helping people quit smoking or educating people on the dangers of lighting up.

Committee members plan to discuss the issue next week, although they have not set a date.

The JBC has already diverted some $15 million from the Tobacco Settlement Funds to this year’s $850 million budget deficit. That number could grow by an additional $48 million if projections by state budget experts prove true.

Next year’s budget deficit is projected to be $869 million. The state could recoup an estimated $300 million toward that by putting those tobacco funds in securities and eliminating some tobacco-funded health and education programs.

The tobacco settlement money currently funds health insurance programs for poor children and tobacco education and prevention projects, among other projects.

Legislators have two options in using tobacco funds to balance the budget. The first would be to take the next two years’ worth of funds and use that as a stopgap measure. Another way could be through securitizing the funds.

Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance (CTEPA), a statewide coalition of groups committed to reducing tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke, says securitization is the worst way to go.

Securitization involves selling tobacco settlement funds the state has yet to receive for a lump sum of money today.

Tobacco education and prevention experts denounce both proposals, saying legislators need to be more fiscally responsible and avoid robbing future revenue sources for today’s shortfalls.

In hopes of saving her tobacco cessation and education programs, Blackwell of the Summit Prevention Alliance plans to submit a grant request for half the money she received this fiscal year. An additional challenge, however, is that grants for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, will be awarded on a competitive basis. Last year, she said, every tobacco cessation and education program received funds.

If the JBC decides to use the tobacco funds to offset next year’s budget deficit, however, no one will receive money for their programs.

Blackwell wonders how the state will evaluate grants.

She said it might grant funds to programs that affect a larger population or concentrate funds among populations of poorer, less-educated people who are most likely to smoke.

According to a state Department of Health and Environment study, cigarette smoking has decreased 9.6 percent between 2000 and 2002 in Colorado. Health care advocates say that reduction shows cigarette cessation programs are working.

According to Blackwell, 80 percent of Coloradans don’t smoke, and 85 percent of those who do want to quit.

“That’s why I work so hard at this,” she said. “That (smoking) rate right there fills my days. It’s my biggest motivation.”

She said she might find out next week – or perhaps, in several months – if she will have funds to continue her mission.

“They’re just going to hang me out there,” Blackwell said. “If I come to work and there’s a box on my desk, I’ll know I don’t have a job. Otherwise I’ll just keep working.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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