Nevada could have health, scholarships

Nevada's share of tobacco-settlement funds continues to drop as cigarette sales decrease nationwide, a good news-bad news scenario if ever there was one.

The good news, of course, is that the campaign to cut smoking in America is succeeding beyond expectations. Cigarette consumption has been falling at about 8 percent a year since the 1998 settlement of lawsuits against major tobacco companies.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is that American farmland planted in tobacco last year was less than any year since 1874 (although tobacco imports are up).

And since lessening Americans' dependence on nicotine, with its related health hazards and costs, was the purported goal of the tobacco settlement, what's to second-guess?

In Nevada, only a small percentage of the tobacco-settlement money has been earmarked for anti-smoking campaigns. More goes toward health-care and assisted-living programs for seniors.

The biggest share, however, goes to the Millennium Scholarship program, which provides $10,000 for qualifying Nevada high-school students to attend in-state universities and colleges.

We fully support of the Millennium Scholarship program and believe it will do more long-term good than any other use of the tobacco funds. The second-guessing comes about because of the Legislature's refusal to protect the program through securitization of the tobacco-settlement revenue.

Over the last two legislative sessions, Treasurer Brian Krolicki has tried to convince legislators of the long-term wisdom of his proposal to sell the tobacco revenue stream to investors for a lump sum, which the state could then invest. Because it would have traded a promised $1.2 billion over 25 years for $400 million up front, legislators didn't like it.

This week, when we saw Nevada collecting $38 million (instead of $43 million) in tobacco money, we were reminded of the soundness of Krolicki's plan. But the window of opportunity may have passed. We're sure Nevada could have received a better deal in earlier years, especially if the Legislature had gone for it when originally proposed in 2001.

We expect to see the tobacco revenues steadily decline over the next two decades, and we expect to see the Millennium Scholarship program steadily decline with it, unless pumped up by other state funds. Given a choice of healthier residents or a healthy scholarship fund, we'd rather have both.


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