Advocate opposes state's plan for funds
The proposal would affect seven northeast Ohio counties.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- A smoking-cessation advocate criticized state lawmakers Friday for considering diverting dollars from the national tobacco settlement to fund E-Check testing.
That money, according to Mike Renner, executive director of Ohio Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation, could be better used to help people stop smoking.
"We don't understand why the Legislature would choose to take funding away from a program that is working to save Ohio lives ... to fund one that currently is self-sustaining, has many critics and does not have the same proven results as tobacco use reduction programs," Renner testified before the House Finance Committee.
Majority House Republicans have included a provision in the latest version of the new two-year state budget that would pay the $19.50-per-vehicle, E-Check auto-emissions testing costs for motorists beginning Jan. 1 in affected northeast Ohio counties.
Testing costs are projected at between $15 million to $18 million, a House GOP spokeswoman has said, with the funds to be taken from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement.
The funding would cover testing through the end of the next two-year budget cycle that ends June 30, 2007, the House GOP spokeswoman has said.
Renner said the settlement money was intended to be used for smoking prevention purposes.
"Let's not forget that these are not tax dollars, but dollars recovered by the state of Ohio in a lawsuit for injuries caused by tobacco," Renner testified. "The damages should be used to fix the injury."
According to state officials and the foundation, the foundation was created by state law as one of the organizations to receive a portion of Ohio's approximate $250 million annual share of the national tobacco settlement. The foundation helps smoking-cessation programs and use prevention programs around the state.
Earlier this year, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said the state is proposing to extend E-Check in seven northeast Ohio counties for two more years to meet federal requirements to clean up the air.
The northeast Ohio counties affected by E-Check are Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake, Geauga, Medina, Summit and Portage.
The contract between the state and the testing company that administers E-Check expires at year's end. Any extension would require state legislative approval.
The House Finance Committee reportedly plans a vote Sunday on its version of the two-year, $51.3 billion state budget.
The current two-year, $48 billion state spending plan runs through June 30. Lawmakers must enact the next two-year outlay by July 1, under state law.