Health Funds Raided to Provide Corporate Handouts
by John Andrews, MCHC
After passing a budget that slashes public health programs and protects corporate loopholes, you might think legislators would take a rest. But house leaders are now pushing a bill through the Legislature that dips into tobacco settlement money to provide over $110 million in handouts to corporations.
House Democratic leaders emphasized that the measure should find favor with Republican leaders. “If this isn’t a proposal for a pro-business governor, then I don’t know what is.” said Peter Larkin (D-Pittsfield) who worked to develop the bill.
Rep. Frank Hynes (D-Marshfield) said there was no opposition voiced during a closed caucus of House members.
Rep. Thomas Finneran touted the planned corporate handouts with the claim that they could lead to a “booming economy” that would solve all our fiscal problems. However, history casts doubts upon the promises of economic benefits due to Beacon Hill handouts. Massachusetts is still suffering from the infamous “payoffs for layoffs” tax breaks that robbed the state treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars on the premise that jobs would be saved. In fact, the corporations taking the breaks cut jobs in Massachusetts.
The state’s tobacco control program has already suffered a 92% funding cut in the last 18 months. Communities that lost funding last year have already experienced an alarming tripling in illegal sales to minors. Studies have concluded that the tobacco control program has reduced spending on health care by $85 million annually. But according to legislators, the state just doesn’t have the money to fund these programs.
Advocates for tobacco prevention note that using the tobacco settlement money for corporate gifts goes against the clear intention of the trust fund to curb tobacco use and pay for health care costs of tobacco injuries. “There has very obviously been a steady retreat from the intention of tobacco control money,” said Diane Pickles, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for a Healthy Future. “Certainly the intent was to recoup health care costs associated with smoking, including tobacco control. Now the health care and tobacco trust fund is being raided for other uses.”