Democrats Seek Civic Focus for Tobacco Dollars

Jan 23, 2001

Rochester, NY – Democrats on the Monroe County Legislature say they want to make sure the rest of the county's tobacco settlement money doesn't "go up in smoke." Todd Bullard -- the legislature minority leader -- says democrats will hold a public hearing Thursday evening to get the public's ideas on how the money should be used. It's 7:00 to 9:00 P.M. at the county office building in downtown Rochester. Last year, County Executive Jack Doyle sold Monroe County's future share of the multi-state tobacco settlement in return for more than142-million dollars of upfront cash. The process is called "securitization." Bullard and the democratic caucus held hearings last year on possible uses for the money. But Doyle and the legislature's republican majority put much of the money into reducing the county's debt. Some was set aside for acquiring new park land, and about 57-million dollars is available for "capital projects." Democrats have released a report called "Up in Smoke" that attacks the allocation of those funds. Bullard says it's the biggest windfall the county will ever see, and it's being spent with minimal public input. Democrats say they're afraid the county administration will spend the remaining 57-million on its proposed 80-million dollar zoo expansionproject. Bullard and Legislator Jose Cruz of Rochester say the zoo is a frivolous project compared with the need for job re-training or housing thehomeless. And they say it's an abomination that only 50-thousand dollars has been set aside for anti-smoking programs. Bullard says 15-to-20 percent of the 142-million should have been used to get smokers to quit. He says the money represents people who lost their lives to smoking-related illnesses. Doyle administration officials have been invited to the forum. They were meeting this morning, and have not yet commented.