Sorrell against Douglas scholarship funding plan

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(Host) Attorney General Bill Sorrell is adding his voice to those who say Governor Douglas needs to find another source of funds for a new college scholarship program.

The governor wants to use tobacco settlement money to pay for thousands of scholarships. But Sorrell says the money is needed for anti-smoking efforts.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Sorrell doesn’t want tobacco money to pay for the college scholarships. But that doesn’t mean he’s embraced an alternative advanced by some Statehouse Democrats. The legislative leaders have their eye on tapping the tobacco fund to pay down Medicaid deficits.

Sorrell says both ideas are wrong.

(Sorrell) “Let’s not forget we got the money because of the tobacco suit. And there are a million good ideas out there what to do with the money. But I don’t think it’s prudent to use money that’s going to go away – this special fund that will go away in 10 years – to fund an ongoing program or to fill a budget hole.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas says his Vermont Promise Scholarship program would provide more than 12,000 scholarships over a 15-year period.

The program is expected to cost up to $175 million. And the governor says the tobacco settlement fund is the only source of money that’s available.

Sorrell – who worked as administration secretary for Governor Howard Dean – says Douglas could find another revenue source.

(Sorrell) “There are other sources. There’s raising the tobacco tax and using that for some other purposes, or there’s a reallocation of some other spending. But to say that this program can only happen if we can tap this source of money that we’re only going to get for 10 years, I think that’s more politics than reality.”

(Dillon) The attorney general says 1,200 Vermonters a year die of smoking-related illnesses. So he’d like to see part of the money put into a trust fund so the anti-tobacco programs can continue after the lawsuit funds run out.

He says it’s shortsighted to use the money to launch an ambitious new scholarship program or to pay down the Medicaid deficit.

(Sorrell) “You got a budget hole in Medicaid right now, using this temporary money to plug that hole – that hole is going to be there in 10 years when this money’s no longer there. So let’s make an investment for the future.”

(Dillon) Douglas is not backing off his plan. He’s in the second week of a statewide effort to sell the scholarship program. On Monday, he’s talking to students and faculty at Johnson State College and on Tuesday he’ll visit the Community College in Burlington.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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