Legislators ax tourism funds, tobacco funds to balance budget | SummitDaily.com

Legislators ax tourism funds, tobacco funds to balance budget

DENVER – Tobacco cessation and tourism funding both took major hits in the Joint Budget Committee Tuesday, when legislators voted to sell almost half the state’s future tobacco settlement funds and nix $10 million already allocated to promoting tourism.

The move means the state will sell more than $533 million worth of state tobacco settlement funds that would have been collected over the next 10 years for a one-time payment of $260 million. The money will be used to address next year’s anticipated budget shortfall of $869 million.

Colorado was awarded the funds in 1995 when 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, tobacco companies forged an agreement with the state in 1998 that gives Colorado $2.6 billion over a 25-year period. The state receives annual payments of roughly $100 million.

Under the JBC bill, the state would sell 47 percent – $533 million – of future tobacco funds for $260 million. The bonds will be repaid through future proceeds from Colorado’s share of the national agreement with tobacco companies to settle smoking-related lawsuits.

The $260 million will fund an emergency reserve for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Additionally, the JBC voted to cut more than $9 million from next year’s tobacco programs to balance this year’s budget. If legislators approve the JBC bill, it means tobacco cessation and education advocates will have $70 million less with which to work each year for the next 11 fiscal years.

The impacts won’t be felt until fiscal year 2004-2005. The state fiscal year begins July 1 every year. According to the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance (CTEPA), Colorado’s program is now at 60 percent of Centers for Disease Control minimum funding levels. In fiscal year 2004-2005, when funding will be at its lowest, the state’s program will be at 25 percent of Centers for Disease Control minimums.

If approved by the full Legislature, Colorado would join California and a number of other states that have used all or part of the $206 billion settlement to balance their budgets.

Other cuts the JBC made will eliminate funding to the Colorado Council on the Arts to save $830,000, cap the number of poor children eligible for health care at 51,000 to save $2.5 million, reduce the education fund another $50 million and trim library services to save $1.4 million.

CTEPA officials spent Thursday encouraging tobacco education advocates to contact legislators and encourage them to vote against the bill.

The cuts were needed after a new forecast showed that tax revenues for the first three months of this year will be down an additional $160 million.

The JBC also voted to rescind $12 million of Owens’ $16.4 million economic stimulus package – $10 million of which was earmarked to promote tourism. Thursday, they reinstated $9 million.

Next week, budget writers will send a $5.1 billion budget – called the Long Bill – to the Senate for review.


Remaining Tobacco Funds

Funds for the next 10 years (barring future cuts by the legislature):

Fiscal year Budget

2004-2005 $6.8 million

2005-2006 $6.9 million

2006-2007 $7 million

2007-2008 $7.1 million

2008-2009 $8.8 million

2009-2010 $9 million

2010-2011 $9.1 million

2011-2012 $11.6 million

2012-2013 $15 million

2013-2014 $15 million

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

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