When we pay property or income taxes, we don’t expect that money to be used for a single purpose.
We expect it will go towards roads and sidewalks and sewer pipes, schools and libraries, police and fire services, prisons, social programs for the poor and elderly, and other general government services.
There’s actually a term for where that money goes — the “general fund.”
But not all money that comes into the government is intended for general use. Sometimes, it’s targeted for a specific use.
That money should be directed to ensure it’s spent for the reasons it was collected. When targeted money goes into the general fund, it can be spent on practically anything, threatening the programs for which it was intended.
That’s the case with the state’s decision place into the state’s general fund millions of dollars derived from a legal settlement from pharmaceutical companies for their role in facilitating and exacerbating the opioid crisis.
The state in February announced it was to receive about $32 million from a $573 million settlement against McKinsey and Co., which helped promote the addictive opioid pain killer oxycodone.
Instead of directing that $32 million to address the opioid crisis that was precipitated by the companies involved, lawmakers during budget negotiations agreed to place about $21 million of it in the general fund, and directed about $11 million of it into the existing program for medication assisted treatment in prisons.
While state budget officials say the amount of money in the general fund is indeed directed to treatment and prevention programs, there’s no guarantee that money will actually be used for those purposes, now or in the future. With future legal settlements anticipated, it’s possible that money, too, could be placed in the general fund.
State lawmakers need to guarantee that settlement money goes where it was intended.
One proposed bill (A6395/S6212), sponsored by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, would require that all funds received by the state from such settlements be deposited in a “chemical dependence service fund” and that such funds could not be used to supplant or replace existing funding. Another (A2466) would establish a settlement fund to be used for substance abuse support programs and other related anti-addiction efforts.
New York needs to ensure that settlement money is spent where it was intended, and not redistributed or watered down to pay for other state programs.
For those those individuals and families directly affected by the opioid crisis, the decision of how to allocate the money could come down to life or death.