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Background on State Tobacco Settlement Legislation
February 8, 2001

PCPA has received a number of phone calls in the past few days asking about the recent vote in the Pennsylvania House on allocation of the tobacco settlement funds. In particular, people were interested in several amendments to the bill that would have allocated additional funding to MH/MR programs. We are sending you the following statement by PCPA's Government Relations Consultant, Morgan Plant, to help place the House's recent actions in context. If you have any additional questions, please contact George Kimes or Lu Conser at the Association.

Statement by Morgan Plant:

The vote in the PA House of Representatives on Wednesday, January 31 on an allocation plan for the PA Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) tobacco funds included a variety of amendments to designate funds for MH/MR spending, among many other items, should not be considered a serious reflection of the will of the House, the Senate or the Governor to actually follow this particular spending plan. In total the amount allocated represented almost twice as much money as is actually there, and there were three different amendments setting aside different amounts as a trust fund - including one designating 40 percent of the money be set aside.

As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, House Democrat Kathy Manderino of Philadelphia, who cast the lone opposition vote, said she did so to protest the lack of priorities in the bill. "There's no way this could become law because we said 'yes' to everything," she said. "We did not stay within the limits and as a result we didn't show our priorities to the governor's office."

This is a process similar to the one the House uses for the budget, (except that the budget's amendments have to be revenue neutral), which gives every member an opportunity to offer amendments that everyone votes for. The bill then goes over to the Senate, which exercises a bit more restraint.

Ultimately in the tobacco settlement a spending plan will be worked out amongst the House, the Senate and the Governor. According to House Majority Leader John Perzel, it appears that the tobacco spending plan may get worked out in tandem with the state budget, which, in recent years has been agreed to in mid-May.

In my view the votes on MH/MR should not be taken as a harbinger of things to come, or even an expression of the will of the House to fund the recruitment and retention effort with tobacco money. I also believe it would not be wise to attempt to attach our wagon to this particular star, as the tobacco funds cannot be relied upon as a stable and continuing source of income for MH/MR, which rightfully belongs squarely in the Commonwealth's General Fund budget.

That being said, the willingness of some members of the House to make the effort to include MH/MR funds in the tobacco settlement is reflective of the growing awareness of the General Assembly that human service staffing is a serious problem that should be addressed. A number of the tobacco bill's amendments were offered by members who have expressed their support for an ongoing effort to address the staffing and funding problems that are facing agencies. This is a direct result of the hard work that PCPA and other groups have done to educate our state's policy makers on this issue.

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