Your uninsured friend has been injured by a
negligently produced product and you have paid her expensive medical bills. Then you hired
a lawyer and paid him out of your pocket too. He's gone to court, sued to recover for your
damages, and won the case; you've been awarded a just settlement for your costs. But he
gives your entire reimbursement to consumer advocates, because he believes they might help
others avoid what happened to your friend.
Would you be grateful for your lawyer's
compassion and generosity, or would you demand your rightful restitution from him?
Former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger is
that lawyer, and you and other Massachusetts taxpayers are the caring friend to whom the
"tobacco settlement" belongs. But state government is ignoring your claim to the
award, instead debating how to spend your share of the multi-billion dollar reimbursement.
In a transparent bait-and-switch scam, this
reimbursement for the state's past health care program costs for smoking-related illnesses
is being earmarked to expand government programs and create new ones. This switch comes
despite winning arguments that litigation against the tobacco industry was to
"recover" the cost borne by taxpayers.
The opening complaint in Commonwealth v.
Phillip Morris, Inc. states that the attorney general "brings this action on behalf
of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ... to recover the smoking-related costs to the
Commonwealth, including, but not limited to, increased expenditures for ... Medical
assistance provided under Massachusetts' Medicaid program [and] the CommonHealth
Program.... In fulfilling its statutory duties, the Commonwealth has expended and will
expend substantial sums of money due to the increased costs of providing health care
services for smoking-related diseases."
It's clear from this language that we
taxpayers are entitled to at least what we have already expended. Tobacco industry money
that will be spent in the future is a windfall for the state. As such, it simply transfers
more of our tax dollars into even larger state surpluses and savings accounts. An argument
could be made that these surpluses also should be returned to the taxpayers.
In taking the position that the tobacco
reimbursement belongs to the taxpayers, we utilize the popular assumption that smokers
imposed a financial burden on non-smoking taxpayers. In fact, this was and is a false
Annual state tobacco excise and sales tax
revenue alone totals $300 million. The commonwealth reportedly spends $200 million a year
on smoking-related illnesses. That's a $100 million annual net profit for the state from
smokers alone. Despite this exculpatory fact, the tobacco settlement was agreed to
by all parties and "recovery" is on its way.
The $250 - $350 million each year the state
is scheduled to recover from the settlement for at least the next 25 years, added to the
$100 million annually paid by smokers above the cost of state-provided health care to
them, brings the state's yearly tobacco revenue bonanza to some $400 million.
In a letter to the New York Times, even
liberal Democratic Congressman (now U.S. Senator) Charles Schumer of New York recognized
the intent of the tobacco settlement recovery award. He wrote: "It makes sense for
the state to use $9 billion of its $25 billion share of the settlement to reduce county
property taxes -- not because it may be politically popular, but because this is the
amount that rightly belongs to property taxpayers in the counties outside of New York City
who bore much of the cost of treating tobacco illnesses. ... New York is one of only two
states that ask county taxpayers to pay half of the state's portion of Medicaid. ... It is
only fair to return to county taxpayers the billions that they paid."
The $7.6 billion Massachusetts "tobacco
settlement" is the result of Harshbarger's relentless assertion that state taxpayers
were damaged by the tobacco industry. He argued that the Commonwealth, by extension the
taxpayers, was unjustly burdened by state-funded health care costs for smoking-related
illnesses. He argued in Middlesex Superior Court: "As the Supreme Judicial Court has
held, reimbursement is simply 'repaying or making good the amount paid out.'"
If we accept that basic premise, as state
politicians apparently have, then it's time for long-suffering taxpayers to receive their