Sorrell Opposes Using Tobacco Money for Budget Deficit

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(Host) Attorney General William Sorrell is strongly opposing a plan by the Dean administration to use money from the national tobacco settlement fund to help balance this year’s budget deficit.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There’s a battle looming this summer over a plan to divert money that s been earmarked for the state’s tobacco trust fund. Using new authority given to him by the Legislature, Governor Howard Dean wants to tap into the state s portion of the national tobacco settlement to help avoid some budget cuts next month.

When the state was awarded this money several years ago, a plan was put into place that allocated part of the money for health care programs and smoking cessation efforts. The remaining portion, or roughly $9 million, was to be placed in a new trust fund. This fund was created so that key anti-smoking programs could be funded years after the settlement payments end.

Dean says the state is facing a nearly $40 million shortfall in the new fiscal year and the governor wants to use that nine million dollar trust fund payment to help reduce the size of the deficit:

(Dean) “It’s something that I am reluctant to do but it’s difficult to argue against it because it’s either that or cut people off programs.

(Kinzel) Attorney General William Sorrell, who helped negotiate the national settlement, says the governor’s plan is shortsighted and is a big mistake:

(Sorrell) “And we shouldn t be taking money out of a trust fund that was created to allow us to ultimately live off the interest to fight tobacco rather than be dependent on tobacco sales. So I hope the governor reconsiders that proposal.”

(Kinzel) Sorrell, who served as administration secretary before he became attorney general, says he understands budget problems. But Sorrell says this plan makes no financial sense:

(Sorrell) “I know what red ink is all about. I know what making cuts is all about. But you know you shouldn’t take out a mortgage to go on a vacation. And I would really like to see the tobacco trust fund not only not reduced, but increased so that ten years from now we’ll have the interest off that trust fund to allow us to continue to fight the advertising being done by the industry.”

(Kinzel) Sorrell made his comments after announcing that he plans to seek a third full term in office.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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