Cuts could bring tobacco funds down to $5.8 million |

Cuts could bring tobacco funds down to $5.8 million

DENVER – The state’s tobacco prevention and cessation program could have only $5.8 million to spend next year after the Joint Budget Committee voted last week to slash another $14.6 million from the program to compensate for this year’s budget deficit.

“That leaves $5.8 million for the whole state – for the whole year,” said Laurie Blackwell, Summit Prevention Alliance tobacco prevention coordinator. “And there’s still a lot of next year’s budget that hasn’t been taken care of yet.”

In 1995, state Attorney General Gale Norton filed suit against the major tobacco companies to recover Medicaid funds spent to take care of ill and dying smokers. According to the Tobacco Control Partners of Colorado, the state and tobacco companies forged an agreement in 1998 that gives Colorado $2.6 billion over a 25-year period.

During this legislative session, the Legislature has transferred millions of dollars from the various tobacco settlement funds to fill this year’s budget shortfall, which was initially estimated at $850 million.

The 2002-03 fiscal year ends June 30. State economists have told legislators that revenues for January through March are coming in far less than projected, and more cuts will need to be made to this year’s budget. At the beginning of March, those additional cuts were estimated at $48 million; now state officials are saying they could be in the $160 million range.

That doesn’t include next fiscal year’s budget shortfall, estimated to be $869 million.

According to the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance, the $14.6 million the Legislature took includes $5.6 million Gov. Bill Owens withheld from this year’s budget. The remaining $9 million will come from next year’s tobacco funds.

Tobacco cessation experts say that because next year’s budget has yet to be balanced, as required under the state constitution, the remaining $5.8 million is still at risk.

Additionally, legislators are still talking about how much of the state’s future tobacco funds should be sold to balance the budget.

To date, the Legislature has transferred more than $16 million from tobacco prevention and cessation programs, with more than $7 million coming from this year’s funds and more than $9 million coming from next year’s budget.

Other cuts the Joint Budget Committee adopted last week: suspending the Child Health Plan to save $3.5 million; eliminating the Read to Achieve Program for the rest of the fiscal year to save $7.9 million; cutting $30 million from the state education fund and $70.4 million from the statutory reserve.

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

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