A panel of lawmakers is recommending spending more money out of the state’s Millennium Fund for anti-drug programs than Gov. Butch Otter recommended, and says the fund shouldn’t cover the governor’s Office of Drug Policy (ODP).
The Joint Millennium Fund Committee is recommending spending $5.2 million in grants, with the largest grants going to the Interagency Substance Abuse Committee to help children and families with substance abuse, and the Department of Health and Welfare for anti-tobacco programs. All told, 10 of the 16 groups vying for funding from the annual Millennium Fund grants were recommended funding. Otter recommended funding to five programs for $3.3 million total. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) will make the final decision on which groups will get funding.
The Idaho Millennium Fund and its permanent endowment fund came from the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies. The Millennium Fund is expected to have more than $70 million by the end of June. The governor has recommended using $68 million from the fund to pay for Medicaid payments if the federal government lowers its share of spending for that program.
One of the groups not getting funding is the ODP, which was depending on $443,000 to fund its operations and staff. “It is not appropriate to fund agencies with Millennium Fund dollars,” said committee co-chair Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot. Other state agencies, including DHW and the Idaho State Police, are getting grants, but only for specific programs. “We have always shied away from financing the administrative staff.” The ODP was created after Otter became governor, and coordinates with state and local agencies on drug law enforcement and prevention programs.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, was the only committee member to speak in favor of funding ODP. “They’ve brought the players for treatment together,” she said. “I’m also now very encouraged about how they’re making the attempt to bring prevention (groups) together.” Last year, the Millennium Fund Committee also didn’t recommend funding for the ODP, but JFAC approved money for the office.
There were multiple proposals on where to spend the Millennium Fund dollars. The final recommendations came on a party line vote. Another program whose funding was debated was the Idaho Meth Project, which ultimately received a suggested $500,000, which is what the governor requested. First Lady Lori Otter founded the Idaho Meth Project. Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, proposed trimming funding for the Meth Project. “There are some concerns swirling about the effectiveness of the program,” she said.
Also at the Millennium Fund meeting, Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise introduced a proposal to ban dissolvable tobacco products in Idaho. Werk said dissolvable tobacco, which is packaged, flavored tobacco people can consume like mints and is under brand names including Stonewall, Ariva, and Camel, is a bad idea. “When I heard about this product, my instantaneous thought was that we should not be selling this product in Idaho,” he said.
The panel endorsed Werk’s proposed ban when Lake sided with four Democrats. “I think this is legislation that is getting ahead of the curve,” Lake said. “This is intended to be marketed to young people. For that reason, I think it’s wise for us to be proactive.”
Other Republicans said singling out the new form of tobacco goes too far. “I’m a little confused over how we can go in, pick a product out, and ban it,” said Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo. “As long as you’re at it, why don’t you ban play cigarettes, chewing tobacco — there’s lots of it [being used by] young people—and why don’t you ban cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco? I agree this is a bad product and one we don’t want to get started.”
Werk said the Legislature put in a similar ban on inhalable alcohol a few years ago. “This is not something that we haven’t done in the past,” he said. “We should make sure that dissolvable tobacco does not come to Idaho.” Werk said he will introduce the legislation on Monday.