State will provide anti-smoking funds

Tobacco settlement money is in escrow because of dispute

January 11, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening told key legislators yesterday that he will provide taxpayer money to replace more than $40 million for cancer research and other efforts aimed at reducing the number of smokers in the state.

The money should have been available through Maryland's portion of the national tobacco settlement, but the administration has been holding the money in escrow because of the state's dispute with lawyer Peter G. Angelos over his fees.

The state will provide $16 million for cancer research and other programs that had been denied money pending resolution of the dispute. That includes $12 million for the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The governor said he will make $26 million more available in the fiscal 2002 budget that he will announce next week.

Glendening's announcement drew a quick and positive response from legislators. "I was thrilled," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

In September, the administration announced that it would keep $21 million of the tobacco settlement money in escrow in case a judge or appeals board ruled that Angelos was entitled to a quarter of the $4.2 billion Maryland expects to get from tobacco companies over the next 25 years.

In the coming year, $53 million will be put in escrow. Although the governor is making nearly half that amount available, some programs that had expected tobacco settlement money won't be fully funded.

Michael Morrill, the governor's spokesman, said many of the affected programs are just getting started and will not be harmed by the cuts. He said many other programs will get what they were promised.

"Everybody who got a deferral [in this year's budget] is going to get that money in 2002," he said. "We think that this is a very balanced approach."

Both Hoffman and Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said a solution had to be found so the state could make good on the promises made to Hopkins, the University of Maryland and various community organizations.

"I think we made it abundantly clear that if the governor didn't fix it, we were going to fix it. And we had the support of our colleagues in the General Assembly," Rawlings said. "I think the governor realized the harm that he was inflicting on Hopkins and the University of Maryland, and he decided to solve the problem."

The legislators were concerned that Hopkins and the University of Maryland had been forced to delay hiring and research projects. Yesterday, Dr. Martin Abelhoff, director of the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Cancer Center, said he was "absolutely delighted" that money had become available to help the center move forward with its programs.

Dr. Stephen C. Schimpff, chief executive officer of the University of Maryland Medical Center, said he too was pleased that the governor found the money.

"He was always clear that this was something that he wanted to fund," Schimpff said. "The governor's action today is really going to accelerate important research which will improve the care of patients in Maryland.

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