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California and the West

State Gets a Windfall in Balkans Military Bill

Congress: Measure providing $15 billion in emergency funding also denies federal government a share of massive tobacco settlement, which will mean at least $77 million more for California.

May 21, 1999|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Senate gave final approval Thursday to a $15-billion emergency funding bill that would provide money for U.S. military operations and humanitarian aid in the Balkans but snuffs out President Clinton's hopes for claiming a federal share of last year's tobacco settlement.

The president's expected signature on the bill would provide a fiscal windfall for California and the other 49 states, which will not have to share their allotments from the legal settlement with Washington. But the measure also means that the settlement money from the tobacco industry would do little to boost anti-smoking campaigns.

A survey by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Heart Assn. shows that although state governments pushed hard to win the $246-billion award from the courts, only a handful have committed themselves to using any of the money for anti-smoking programs.

California Gov. Gray Davis has indicated that he wants to put the $1.1 billion a year that California expects to receive from the settlement into the general fund. A spokesman for the state Department of Finance said that plan remains intact.

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has said that he plans to earmark the $313 million the city expects to get for sidewalk repairs and installation of wheelchair cutouts on curbs. By using the money that way, he hopes to head off a federal lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Senate passage of the emergency appropriations bill, on a 64-36 vote, came two days after the House endorsed the compromise package. The measure now goes to Clinton, who said Thursday that he willsign it despite reservations about its size and scope.

The measure, which Republicans used as a vehicle to increase defense spending generally, almost doubles the $6.05 billion that Clinton had requested for operations related to the war in Kosovo. It also provides financial aid for U.S. farmers and relief for victims of recent tornadoes in this country and last fall's Hurricane Mitch in Central America.

The bill briefly hit a snag Thursday when conservatives balked over a spate of special-interest amendments that they warned would erode the surplus in the Social Security trust fund, which Republicans have pledged to protect.

But an effort by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) to offset the cost of the emergency measure by cutting more money from several key domestic spending programs failed on a 70-30 vote after Senate leaders portrayed the measure as necessary to support U.S. troops in the Balkans.

Nevertheless, the lopsided vote for passage showed substantial defections in both parties--a rarity for an emergency bill to support U.S. troops in combat. In all, 32 Republicans and 32 Democrats supported the bill, while 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats voted against it.

California's two senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, voted against the Gramm effort to cut domestic spending but split on final passage. Feinstein voted to approve the overall bill. Boxer opposed it.

The biggest setback for the administration was the provision on the tobacco settlement. Clinton had hoped to tap some $18 billion of the $246 billion awarded to states or, at a minimum, to prod states into using much of the funds for anti-smoking campaigns.

But the measure prohibits the administration from claiming any share of the tobacco money for the federal government. And the administration cannot require states to use any of the money for anti-smoking campaigns.

Matthew Myers, vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called the provision "a clear setback" that "leaves the door open for states to spend the money from the tobacco settlement on everything from cutting taxes to renovating morgues."

Under the legislation, the federal government will be taking a major fiscal hit. Without the $18 billion in extra revenues that Clinton had expected, the administration is likely to run a decidedly smaller budget surplus.

Clinton also will lose the opportunity to use a part of the tobacco revenues to finance anti-smoking campaigns across America. The administration had hoped to turn the effort into a major political plus for itself.

California now will receive at least $77 million a year more than it would have if the administration had prevailed.

The overall bill provides $10.9 billion for defense spending, $800 million for refugee relief in Kosovo, almost $1 billion for victims of Hurricane Mitch, $900 million for disaster relief in the Midwest and $570 million in aid to farmers.

Republicans added $5.7 billion to the bill's defense component to make up for what they charged was declining military readiness during the years that Clinton has been in office.

The measure's special-interest provisions include $26 million to offset the impact of new fishing restrictions on fishermen in Alaska, $3.8 million to renovate dormitories for the pages who assist House members and $2.2 million to build more sewers for the Salt Lake City Olympics.

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