Cancer research aid tied up in fee dispute

Ruinous: Governor Glendening and Peter Angelos must unlock the cigarette settlement money.

January 02, 2001

MARYLAND CANNOT afford to delay the implementation or to dilute the impact of this comprehensive anti-cancer and anti-smoking plan..."

The words are those of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, uttered via press release last February when he announced a $1 billion spending plan for Maryland's share of the national tobacco settlement.

Now, though, a critical portion of that money has been delayed -- by Governor Glendening. As a result, despite the urgency expressed last February, the anti-cancer research effort will be delayed and diluted.

FOR THE RECORD - An editorial in Tuesday's Sun should have said the state was cutting back a $9.5 million grant to the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The Sun regrets the error.

A spokesman for the governor says a decision to withhold $16 million this year could not be avoided. The courts have begun escrowing 25 percent of the federal payout until the state and lawyer Peter G. Angelos settle a monumental fee dispute.

What irony: State governments and smart lawyers finally defeated the tobacco industry in court, winning huge settlements to be used for cancer research, treatment and anti-smoking campaigns. But now -- in Maryland -- the state and one of its lawyers stand in the way of putting all that money to work.

The impasse takes on an infuriating aura: Mr. Angelos has a contract that awards him 25 percent of the national settlement with Maryland. He has agreed before to accept half the fee specified in his contract, but the state wants him to collect his money from a national fund set aside for lawyers. He refuses, citing the contract.

Governor Glendening re-computed his settlement spending plan for the current budget year and for years ahead. For now, he has chosen to put as much of the unencumbered money as possible into a program to help Maryland farmers give up the 400-year habit of growing tobacco. In order to take as many tobacco farms as possible out of production, that portion of the settlement has been untouched.

Cut back by necessity, the governor says, are a $9.5 million grant to the University of Maryland Hospital System, $3 million for the Johns Hopkins Hospital and assorted other grants made last year by the General Assembly. The cash is needed now to hire researchers and to make physical improvements for research labs and clinics.

Mr. Glendening promises to restore the full flow of money as soon as possible -- possibly in the 2002 budget.

In February, he said, "Our comprehensive plan takes advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use the tobacco industry's own money to conquer cancer ..."

Once in a lifetime indeed. Governor Glendening and Mr. Angelos face a moral obligation to end their dispute. Having forced the tobacco merchants to pay for the damage they've done, the state and its lawyer appear willing to stand in the way of putting that money to use.

Mr. Angelos and Governor Glendening have negotiated difficult matters throughout their lives. Let them use their skills now to find a way out of this distressing delay.

More than money hangs in the balance.

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