Wisconsin's Budget Squanders Tobacco Settlement; It's a Raw Deal for Kids and Taxpayers

William V. Corr, Executive Vice President Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids

Jul. 9 2002

Washington, DC — In an incredibly shortsighted move, the Wisconsin Legislature has traded 25 years worth of tobacco settlement payments that would have totaled over $4 billion for just $1.6 billion now. This money will all be used to partially balance a single budget. This is a raw deal for Wisconsin's kids and taxpayers that cheats future generations. This budget would make it virtually impossible for the state to keep the promise of the tobacco settlement and adequately fund a comprehensive tobacco prevention program that would protect kids, save lives and save money for taxpayers by reducing smoking-caused diseases. This is a penny-wise pound-foolish approach that ignores the conclusive evidence from other states that tobacco prevention programs are saving up to $3 for every dollar spent on the programs. Tobacco prevention is a critical part of a long-term solution to Wisconsin's budget woes. Instead, lawmakers have chosen an approach that digs an even deeper budget hole and ensure Wisconsin's taxpayers will pay even more in the future to treat smoking-caused disease.

Tobacco's toll in Wisconsin is devastating – 33 percent of youths currently smoke, and 16,700 more kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Some 7,800 Wisconsin residents will die this year of smoking-caused disease. Smoking-caused health care expenses and productivity losses cost Wisconsin nearly $3 billion a year. The tobacco settlement was intended to address this problem. Shamefully, if the budget plan is signed by the Governor, Wisconsin will become the only state to guarantee that none of its future settlement money will be used for tobacco prevention.

It is incomprehensible that the Legislature would take this action in light of the growing evidence that tobacco prevention programs work to protect kids, save lives and save money. The few states that have implemented comprehensive tobacco prevention programs have reduced youth smoking by anywhere from 36 percent to 47 percent, depending on the age group, in just a few short years. Massachusetts and California are saving up to $3 for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention. Wisconsin will realize similar benefits if its leaders properly fund and implement a comprehensive tobacco prevention program. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Wisconsin spend at least $31 million per year to fund such a program.

Wisconsin's leaders are choosing to squander their state's finances and public health despite the fact that a win-win-win solution exists – increasing the state cigarette tax. Such a proposal would raise revenue, reduce smoking and long term-health costs, and win the support of Wisconsin voters. A poll conducted earlier this year found that 67 percent of Wisconsin voters support an 85-cent increase in the cigarette tax. In recent months, 16 states have approved increases in their cigarette tax. These measures have been approved by governors and legislatures of both political parties, as well as by voters in Washington state, underscoring the broad political support for cigarette tax increases.

The Legislature's plan is little more than a budget gimmick that will end up hurting taxpayers and kids vulnerable to the lure of tobacco addiction. We urge the Governor to reject this plan.

 

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