State Capitol Bureau

BISMARCK - Backers of a state tobacco prevention measure disagreed with legislators Wednesday over what to tell voters about the measure's costs and benefits.

Measure 3 sets up a new tobacco control plan and committee to be funded using money coming into the state for the next 10 years from the national tobacco settlement.

The state has been getting tobacco settlement money for 10 years, and those funds will continue to arrive every year indefinitely. At the same time, another new source of money has started to arrive, a bonus North Dakota receives for having been a major player in brokering the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies.

It is a portion of this bonus money that Measure 3 would use.

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Measure supporters said the Legislature and voters need to consider proof that money spent on tobacco cessation and prevention more than pays for itself because the state will spend less on programs such as low-income citizens' government health care.

Kathleen Mangskau and Rosellen Sand, sponsors of the petition drive, said the tobacco plan could save the state money $113 million in the first two years.

But the measure's official cost to the state, drawn up by the Office of Management and Budget, does not mention such anticipated savings.

Instead, it describes how some parts of state government, including the Water Resources Trust Fund, could get less money from tobacco settlement payments if the measure passes.

A state law requires the Legislative Council to determine the fiscal effect of initiated measures, and the council conducted a hearing Wednesday to consider those questions for Measures 2, 3 and 4 on the November ballot.

"We really need to have a good explanation for what we're voting on," said Legislative Council Chairman Al Carlson. "I struggle with what should be the final message we give the voters."

Carlson noted several times that the law requiring legislators to assign costs to initiated measures does not allow them to consider secondary effects such as the lower health care costs Measure 3 sponsors wanted considered.

The council adopted the OMB's version.

Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net