ANNAPOLIS – After a slam dunk vote in a key House committee Friday, a bill telling the federal government to keep its hands off Maryland’s tobacco settlement money could see a final vote on the House floor as early as Monday.
“What this bill does is to urge the folks over in Washington not to take away any of that tobacco money so we can keep it for ourselves,” Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, lead sponsor of the bill, told the House Appropriations Committee. “We might as well be as greedy as anybody.”
Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, said he exercised his power as chairman in calling immediately for a voice vote on the bill, an unusual procedure. It was unanimous.
“This was a unique experience,” Rawlings said. “It won’t happen again.”
The Senate passed the bill, 43-1, in February. Forty-five of the forty- seven senators are co-sponsoring Baker’s bill.
Other states involved in last year’s national deal with Big Tobacco, including Virginia and Pennsylvania, have similar legislation.
U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Bob Graham, D-Fla., are sponsoring federal legislation to do the same. Other Congress members have bills pending to prohibit the federal government from taking a share of the settlement money, provided the states use their allotment for certain programs, like diversification of tobacco farming communities, prevention, health care and early learning programs.
States are expected to receive more than $206 billion over the next 25 years under the November 1998 deal between 46 state attorneys general and Big Tobacco companies to cover states’ medical costs of treating sick smokers.
Maryland will receive $4.4 billion over the next 25 years. The state also will receive a $268 million bonus for its efforts in settling the national deal.
When the states first settled, they expected to receive all the funds, then the federal government said it deserved a share to cover Medicaid costs, since it pays for about half of those costs in every state.
States across the country are passing legislation similar to Maryland’s, hoping to retain every penny allotted to them in the national deal. Some are even threatening the federal government with litigation.
“State attorneys general are prepared to fight any attempts by the federal government or anyone else to raid the states’ settlement dollars,” said Washington Attorney General Christine O. Gregoire in previous statements.
Gregoire said in January the states will sue the federal government “the first time a penny is deducted” from the states.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening is supportive of Maryland’s legislation.
“Certainly, Maryland has been on board with the other states saying the settlement money should all go to the states,” said Don Vandrey, Glendening spokesman. “They’re the ones who did all the litigation work and should reap the proceeds and not the federal government.”