Saturday, December 22, 2012

Brownback, Schmidt say Kansas will join other states in tobacco agreement

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KANSAS ---- Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Friday said funding to children's programs will be protected under a multi-state legal agreement to settle disputed payments from several major tobacco companies.

In a news release, Brownback and Schmidt said the agreement in principle will reduce the risk of losing tens of millions of dollars.

Payments to Kansas from the original 1998 Big Tobacco legal settlement have been approximately $55 million per year.

As part of that national agreement, Big Tobacco agreed to pay out billions of dollars to states to offset the health costs of smoking, but the cigarette companies disputed some payments to 17 states, including Kansas.

The companies had accused the states of failing to enforce a requirement that other tobacco companies not part of the original settlement pay money into escrow when they make sales in the state.

"That dispute, if not resolved, could cost Kansas children's programs hundreds of millions of dollars. While the new settlement would not eliminate all risk of payment interruption, it would significantly reduce that risk and increase the likelihood that funding for critical children’s programs can continue as anticipated," said Brownback and Schmidt in the prepared statement.

Final details of the agreement must be reached before it can be fully enforced.

The agreement was reached earlier this week, and several states involved have announced how much they would get under the deal. For example, Nebraska said it would get $13 million next year, Georgia, $56 million and North Carolina, $108 million, among others.

But the statement from Brownback and Schmidt contained no dollar figure on how much Kansas will receive.

Brownback's office said the attorney general's office was handling the news release, and repeated phone messages left with the attorney general's office went unanswered.

How much Kansas receives next year is crucial to numerous programs funded with tobacco monies.