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Austin worries about impact of $60 million in lost tobacco settlement dollars

October 18, 2013 Terri Austin
October 18, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Terri J. Austin (D-Anderson) today issued the following statement about this week’s news that Indiana stands to lose $63 million in tobacco settlement funds it was scheduled to receive in 2014:

“For years, we have benefited from our decision to take part in a national agreement signed in 1998 that uses proceeds from tobacco companies to pay for initiatives designed to get Hoosiers to stop smoking and encourage other programs that benefit a healthy Indiana.

“Now it appears that our state government’s failure to live up to its responsibilities is going to cost Indiana to lose more than $60 million in tobacco settlement money in 2014, a decision that will have a disastrous impact upon many health care programs.

“Last month, a three-member panel of judges found that Indiana did not do its job in forcing cigarette manufacturers who wanted to do business in our state to live up to the terms of the 1998 settlement, even if they did not participate in the original agreement.

“The ruling affects actions taken way back in 2003, but the impact of the board’s decision will be felt next year, when the money Indiana is supposed to get from the settlement will be cut from $131 million to $68 million. That’s a $63 million cut!

“Even though the ruling was handed down last month, the Indiana Attorney General’s office only got around to telling us about it this week.

“Now, Indiana hasn’t been like other states and used that tobacco money to pay for road repairs and things like that. We have used it to pay for programs aimed at stopping smoking, helping support community health centers, providing matching money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and financing research in areas like prevention of sickle cell anemia.

“All of those proposals to make Indiana healthier are now at risk.

“What’s upsetting to me – and it should make you angry as well – is that the panel found our state did virtually nothing to pursue compliance from those cigarette manufacturers that chose not be part of the original agreement. The idea was to make these companies pay into an escrow fund to help finance public health programs.

“Instead, the state didn’t do its job.

“And it gets worse. The panel’s ruling only covers what happened in 2003. It also is considering similar sanctions covering the years 2004 to 2012.

“That would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in funding lost that could help Hoosiers stop smoking, protect healthy babies and encourage people of all ages to just do a better job of taking care of themselves.

“The attorney general’s office says it will appeal the ruling. That’s the very least it can do.

“But if the ruling does stand, the leaders of this state’s government should be asked to answer some reasonable questions.

“Such as…

“How on earth did something like this happen in the first place?

“Or, more importantly…

“How do we intend to make up that $60 million in lost funding? We have a multi-billion dollar surplus in the bank, and if we can’t use a little of that money to keep Hoosiers healthier, than what are we doing here?

“This is a time when the Legislature and the Governor’s office must set aside their differences and work together to correct this terrible omission.  What do you think?”