State Audit Raises Questions Over Tobacco Tax
Yesterday questions arose thanks to an audit on whether or not state officials are abiding by the law when handing out money from the state tobacco tax. The money is supposed to go towards efforts to curb smoking in public beyond what the state has already cracked down on and made illegal, like smoking in bars.
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment gave away 5.2 million dollars in 2010 and 2011 to 140 different entities to help get local ordinances passed to ban smoking in places like patios and restaurants and bars, cigar bars and lounges as well as low income housing. The money is supposed to go to smoking prevention and quitting but the auditors questioned whether or not grant money can fund initatives.
Mesa County's State Senator Steve King got involved and became concerned when the head of the department said he didn't need to be consulting the legal opinion of the state attorney general on if they are following the law when they hand over the cash to mostly smaller communities.
Steve King said he is concerned because to him it seems like the department "Has a better understanding of constitutional law than the attorney general." Adding, "What does it hurt to ask the attorney general for an opinion?" The money has benefited communities including Delta and Grand Junction and has not been used for lobbying according to the department.
Conveniently for lawmakers the state can declare a 'fiscal emergency' and direct the funds elsewhere in the state budget.