Governor cheers research made possible by tobacco settlement money. Will he protect it in the future? | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Governor cheers research made possible by tobacco settlement money. Will he protect it in the future?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 6:53 AM

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will laud scientific research at a news conference this morning: the half-billion dollars raised from government and foundation sources for  research supported by the Arkansas Biosciences Institute.

The Institute itself is rooted in fproceeds of the millions generated by the state's settlement of the lawsuit with the tobacco industry over the costs of illness caused by their products.

ABI says it has generated $3.61 for every dollar it has received from the tobacco settlement fund, a sum of $508 million with help from the likes of the National Science Foundation, the USDA, the Defense Department and others.

The research has spawned thousands of publications and 34 patent awards in such topics, according to a news release, as cancer treatment, drug dependency, avian flu and Alzheimer's.

The institute is a partnership of Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute; Arkansas State University and divisions of the University of Arkansas. 

Today's attaboy — merited in its own right — has some relevance to the current state financial context.  

The tobacco settlement has been paying more than $60 million a year into Arkansas since 1999. See the Encyclopedia of Arkansas for background.

Arkansas has stuck to a course of using the money to improve health. Some states have taken the money for general purposes.

A first-time divergence in 2015 took some money to support Medicaid (though this certainly had some health benefits.) The future isn't rosy for Arkansas finances. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has run low on Mike Beebe-created hidey holes to tap to meet special needs. He has also cut taxes and wants to cut them some more. Up in the air is the continuation of the Obamacare-financed Medicaid expansion. If it isn't approved, Hutchinson will see a $100-million-plus hole blown in a budget that he'd hoped had enough wiggle room to pay for highway construction even as it provides no state employee pay raises and a 1 percent cut in general state operations Many legislators  want to renege on the law's promise to all but end the sales tax on food when state desegregation money stops flowing to Pulaski County.

In short, the annual $60 million used to fight smoking and its ill effects plus encourage scientific research might prove too tempting a target to politicians who are reluctant to fund existing services at sustainable levels, much less come up with additional money to improve them.

So, yes, let's have the governor pay tribute to the good deeds this money has done. Maybe it will make him a touch reluctant to look hypocritical some day by taking it away.

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