County Sues For Bigger Cut Of Tobacco Suit

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Gila County just wants its fair share.
To get that, the county has joined nearly every other Arizona county in a suit against the state for a what they feel is a fairer share of the state's settlement with America's tobacco companies.

Last month, Gov. Jane Hull offered the counties 25 percent of the expected $2.8 billion settlement, which would be allocated to a state trust, for health care agencies and local governments.

Instead, the counties want 32 percent of the windfall before the State Legislature gets a hold of it.

Arizona counties are paying roughly 32 percent, or $264 million, of all indigent health-care costs in the current fiscal year. Thirty-two percent of the tobacco settlement dollars Arizona is expected to get would come to about $875 million over 25 years.

"The attorney general entered into an agreement with AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) and the State of Arizona in the suit," said Deputy Gila County Attorney Mark Gunning. "Then, they entered into a master settlement agreement."

Gunning said the counties are complaining that they were allowed no input in the settlement or how it would be split or used.

"It was settled without our notice," he said.

Maricopa County took the lead on the suit, with all other counties joining except Pima. The counties are demanding self-representation on the matter to ensure a larger settlement.

"If the court grants the motion, that means the counties will themselves become plaintiffs," Gunning said. "We can more adequately or better represent our individual counties' interests rather than Attorney General Grant Woods."

Gunning said the suit is now in the hands of the superior court, and an answer is expected by Jan. 20.

"Between now and then, the counties and the attorney general's office could still come to some sort of agreement," he said. "We'll have to wait and see."

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