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Fish Kettles over Lung Cancer Research?!?!?


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Money Well Spent?

Tobacco companies paid Illinois more than $600 million this fiscal year to recoup the cost of longtime smokers' health care. So why is only $47 million of that sum going to health care and medicine?

By Nathan Alderman

Illinois and 45 other states initally sued sued tobacco companies to recoup the costs of caring for ailing smokers. As a result, more than $635 million in tobacco settlement money will pour into Illinois' coffers in the coming fiscal year.

But state documents show only $47 million of that-- roughly one-thirteenth the entire settlement payment-- will be spent on health care, medical research, or anti-smoking programs.

Instead, Illinois will spend more than $414 million of its tobacco money on one-time expenses, including new fish kettles for a state hatchery, a new screen and multimedia presentation for the Cahokia Mounds Historic Site visitors' center, and a $350 million property tax cut. The remaining $174 million will be transferred into a newly created Budget Stabilization Fund.

"The master settlement agreement is generally silent on what the states can do with [the settlement money,]" said Illinois Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago,) whose researcher Kurt DeWeese compiled the list of where all the money ended up.

But, Fritchey said, "I think that common sense should dictate that money derived from tobacco manufacturers should go to health care."

Fritchey served as co-chairman of the state committee that was supposed to determine how Illinois' share of the money should be spent. He and co-chairwoman Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) drafted "Health First" legislation which called for half the tobacco monies to be invested for the future, and the other half spent entirely on health- and smoking-related issues.

But "Health First" was defeated in the House, and according to Fritchey the final budget was determined solely by Gov. George Ryan's office and the state legislature's four party leaders, known as the "Four Tops."

When reached for comment, Senate Minority Leader Emil Jones, Jr., said, "I had wanted much, much more of that [money] to go into preventitive programs" against youth smoking. However, "in the budget negotiations, that's how it ended up."

A spokeswoman for Senate President James "Pate" Phillip (R-Wood Dale) confirmed the Four Tops' role in crafting the final budget, but said that the entire process was conducted with plenty of input from other legislators.

"We don't really have a handle yet on how much money Illinois can expect from the tobacco settlement," said Patty Schuch, Phillip's press secretary. "There is litigation looming [from Cook County and from some of the lawyers who helped Illinois try the case] that could considerably cut into the state's share."

For this reason, Schuch said, the governor, Phillip and the other legislative leaders decided not to fund long-term health care projects they could not guarantee continued funding for. Instead, they fund short-term health-related projects and anti-tobacco initiatives, and devoted most of the rest of the money to one-time expenses that would otherwise have come from the state's general revenue fund.

"To create new programs without a solid funding source would sort of be a cruel hoax," she said.

Most of the tobacco revenue went into a $350 million property tax cut, which Schuh said will give Illinois taxpayers an average rebate of $121 this year.

Fritchey blasted the tax cut as a blatantly political move. He charged that Republicans in the legislature, who had initially protested spending any of the money on anything until the litigation surrounding it had cleared up, suddenly endorsed the property tax cut as election day approached. According to the list his office prepared, the administration and delivery of the tax cut will itself cost taxpayers $750,000.

Fritchey also noted that the tax rebate only applies to property owners, meaning renters and many senior citizens won't see any benefit from it. In addition, the rebate itself is taxable, which Fritchey said will shrink it from $121 to around $80.

According to his press secretary, state comptroller Daniel Hynes supports the tax cut as a way to repay taxpayers for the cost of health care for smokers. But a May 8 news release posted on his Web site attacks more than $27 million worth of other state expenditures that will come from tobacco money.

One of the targets of Hynes' news release was the Little Grassy Fish Hatchery in Williamson County, which according to state documents has been allotted $155,000 for new fish kettles and other construction. Little Grassy produces 10-15 million fish each year, destined to be caught by sport fishermen in private and public lakes around the state, hatchery manager Alan Brandenburg said.

Fish kettles, according to hatchery engineer Paul Frey, are collection basins at the bottom of each fish pool that allow the fish to stay alive and be easily collected once the pool is drained. Two of the hatchery's 12 fish kettles, originally installed in 1979, will be replaced. The kettles have not broken down, Frey said, but will need to be replaced when two of the hatchery's pools are made deeper. The remaining money will replace the hatchery's leaky main drainage pipe, installed in 1956.

Since money for state construction projects like Little Grassy's is requested from the Illinois Capital Development Board, which in turn gets its funding directly from the state budget, Frey said he did not know that the hatchery's money was coming out of the tobacco settlement.

"We just get an appropriation," he said. "We don't know where it comes from. We really don't have any control over that."

Bob Coomer of the Illinois Department of Historic Sites was similarly unaware of the origins of the $1.25 million his agency received for three state projects.

"I know we get an appropriation," he said. "I don't know where the specific funds come from."

Coomer said his department received $900,000 to install a new screen and laserdisc-based multimedia show at St. Clair County's Cahokia Mounds historic site; $225,000 to replace an "antiquated" backup generator at Springfield's Old State Capitol; and $125,000 for additional roads, parking and landscaping at Coles County's Lincoln Log Cabin historic site.

Other uses of tobacco money around the state:

$2.5 million to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, and $1.65 million to build office buildings for the projected $400 million Argonne Rare Isotope Accelerator in Argonne, IL.

By allowing scientists to glimpse how rare isotopes become heavy elements, the Argonne accelerator will provide clues as to the origins of the universe, spokeswoman Catherine Foster said. Federal funding to build the Argonne accelerator has not yet been approved, she said.

"There are probably a few tangential medical applications," she added. But "does it have specific medical applications? . . . No, it doesn't work that way."

$460,000 to renovate the Illinois Art Gallery at Chicago's James R. Thompson Center.

The gallery is 15 years old and hosts approximately 32,000 visitors annually. In addition to general maintenance, the gallery will have the cloth on its walls recovered and its "difficult" lighting system replaced, said spokesman Ken Smith.

"The world of gallery presentation has higher standards now," he said.

Shirley Madigan, chairman of the Illinois Arts Council for which the gallery is a showcase, is the wife of state Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D - 22nd District). The gallery currently hosts an exhibit of antique dolls.

$75,000 for a structural assessment at the Willard Ice Building in Springfield, to determine whether leaking water has damaged a parking structure there.

$150,000 to replace fjords at Ramsey Lake State Park in Fayette County.

A total of $13.5 million to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for planning and construction of three science buildings, one of which is planned for genetic and medical research.

$10 million each to Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, both towards the planning and/or construction of medical research facilities.

As of last January, Northwestern had already raised $850 million in donations for future construction as part of its "Campaign Northwestern" program, according to the campus newspaper. UIC's 1999 annual report indicated that its own "Campaign Illinois" donation drive raised $864 million as of June 30 of that year.

"They could have put the [tobacco] money away and put those [construction] expenditures into the general revenue fund," said Rep. Fritchey. "If you would just spend $50 million a year on tobacco programs ... you could have run those programs for the next decade at least."

When asked why Sen. Phillip and others decided not to invest the tobacco funds instead, Schuh had a one-sentence reply.

"There was a public policy decision made by the governor and the general assembly and its 177 members," she said.

Fritchey, who with Feigenholtz cast the only votes against the current appropriation of the tobacco money, still wishes the money had gone to health care.

"It's too important an issue to be the product of political spin," he said.

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Washington state used most of the money we got for the "general fund". What makes me mad, is they put out stupid commercials on how some people try to quit smoking by taping their mouths shut, or carring around an automatic sprinkler that goes off when a guy lights up, and it sprays the woman next to him. She slaps him and walks off, then the announcer says. "there are easier ways to quit" call 1-800-blah blah blah. Like there is supposed to be something funny about trying to quit smoking? That's about how our money was spent. We don't even see those commercials anymore. So who says that we wanted to settle with the tobacco companies anyway? Big tobacco companies do what ever they want, and it makes me sick that our government lets them get away with this. :evil:


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