Anti-tobacco programs to get less state money

Reductions in 2002 budget for prevention, control tied to fee issue, governor says

January 16, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Community-based tobacco prevention and control programs in Maryland will receive about 15 percent less than their backers expected in the 2002 budget that Gov. Parris N. Glendening will present today.

The governor said the reductions are the result of the state's dispute with lawyer Peter G. Angelos over his fees in a giant tobacco case.

Once the dispute is settled, more money will become available and "they [the programs] will get every penny," Glendening said.

But anti-smoking groups are questioning the governor's commitment and are concerned that the money might never reappear.

"This was a commitment he had made," Michaeline R. Fedder, director of advocacy for the American Heart Association's Baltimore affiliate, said in an interview.

Fedder said the association ardently defended Glendening's priorities last year in an anti-smoking bill, and now the governor seemed to be slighting programs he had supported to decrease the number of Maryland smokers and keep children from picking up the habit.

"We defended it [the governor's plan] because we believed that you would be there with us throughout your term as governor," she said in a letter to the governor.

The administration decided in September that the state has to keep $21 million in escrow in case a judge rules that Angelos is entitled to a quarter of the $4.2 billion Maryland expects to get over the next 25 years as its share of a national tobacco settlement. Holding the funds in limbo means less to go around than anticipated, Glendening said. "We're up to a level that we think most of the [anti-smoking] organizations will be able to absorb in the first year, which will be about 85 percent of the original plan," he said.

The governor had said in 1999 that he would allocate $30 million a year of the state's share of the tobacco settlement to tobacco prevention and control.

Without releasing figures, Glendening aides confirmed that the programs will get about 85 percent of the target - which would amount to $25.5 million. Glendening's goal has been to make Maryland the leading state in the fight against cancer. He said he won't abandon community programs.

"In the long run, they'll get every penny in there," he said.

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