Tobacco Funds Belong To Health Care Providers

    The headline on page 3 of this issue of Grand Rapids Business Journal reads, “Tobacco Money Battle Lines Drawn.” One has to ask why; that is, why does this come down to education or health care. Both are of great concern, both have direct and immediate impact on economic survival. Both must be given the action of legislators (and the governor) who heretofore only say it is important.

    The flurry of finger pointing, declarations of “special interests” and political posturing are absurd and serve only to confuse the voters who may decide the issue on November. It began with Gov. John Engler who conveniently used a windfall from the national tobacco settlement to bolster the idea of providing scholarship money to students who score well on MEAP tests (tests which remain their own debacle). MEAP scholarship funding is a novel and important legacy from this administration to all Michigan children. It should be funded. Period. Education funding should be off limits to budget cutters under any circumstances. It is otherwise meaningless for legislators and would-be politicians to rhetorically tell voters “education is important” or that “our children are No. 1.” The Michigan primary is one month away, and this issue is one by which to hold candidates accountable.

    Grand Rapids Business Journal supports the Citizens for a Healthy Michigan in its petition to provide a constitutional mandate to use tobacco money for health care and smoking prevention/cessation programs. When Engler first set aside the tobacco settlement money in the education budget, Michigan residents were vocally at odds with him, saying the health care issues by which the state financially benefited should be used for those health care issues. Grand Rapids Business Journal makes the following points:

    • Nearly a half-dozen years of consecutive, escalating increases in health care costs has become a grave issue and is probably the most significant challenge of continued economic growth. In short, it is fast becoming a crisis.
    • Underlying the significance of the former is that the Big Three domestic automakers are already informing the state they will not be able to pay the health care benefits of the baby boom retirees. The state may have similar concerns as retirees begin to outnumber employees.
    • A survey conducted by lakeshore chambers of commerce showed businesses believed health care to be the No. 1 and most urgent issue affecting the economy.
    • Engler made war in a companion move last week, vetoing legislation that would have brought an additional $143 million in federal Medicaid money into Michigan through the Quality Assurance Assessment.
    • The coalition opposing the constitutional aspect of the ballot initiative should read the August ballot proposal, which amends the constitution for environmental concerns, and know this, too, can change when and if it becomes appropriate.
    • Michigan repeatedly ranks at the top of the list of states with chronic health concerns (mainly obesity and smoking).
    • Be sure about how this “settlement money” came about: it came from tobacco companies, which deliberately use addictive chemicals in their products, and is based upon the deaths and disease of thousands of individuals.

    The attendant health care issues associated with this ballot proposal — and the incredible increase in the cost of providing such care — will haunt Michigan, especially Michigan, for decades to come.  

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