OKLAHOMA CITY — At least two measures moving through the Legislature seek to ask voters to make substantial changes to the state’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

Voters in 2000 created TSET and put the funds in a lockbox. The trust receives 75% of the state’s annual payment from the 1998 master settlement agreement with tobacco companies.

The dollars are invested and the earnings are used to fund health programs. The principal of the trust currently is about $1.3 billion.

The agency’s budget was just short of $50 million with administrative costs at 3%, said Thomas Larson, TSET spokesman.

The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday passed two measures that would ask voters to change how TSET is funded.

Senate Joint Resolution 27, by Majority Floor Leader Kim David, R-Porter, would reduce the amount of settlement funds going to TSET to 25% with the rest going to the Legislature to use to draw down federal matching funds for the Medicaid program.

David said she has looked at budgets of other states that have expanded Medicaid. Every state underestimated the costs, she said.

The measure passed the Senate Rules Committee by a vote of 9-2 and heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, joined Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa, in voting against the measure.

Kirt said she was deeply concerned about changing what has been a successful program that served as a model nationally.

Senate Joint Resolution 28, by Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, would also make significant changes to TSET.

He said that instead of putting new money that comes in each year into the trust and investing it, TSET could spend the money right away.

“It would allow them to do what they have always done, but there is about another $50 million a year that they would be able to use now instead of investing it and only using the interest that comes off of that in the future,” McCortney said.

SJR 28 passed the Senate Rules Committee and heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“The board of directors has not taken a position on either of those bills,” Larson said.

Finally, the Senate Rules Committee passed Senate Joint Resolution 30, by Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Broken Arrow.

The measure would let voters raise the cap on the amount of money that can be deposited into the state’s “rainy day” fund. The cap would be raised to 30% from 15% of the amount certified for the General Revenue Fund for the preceding year.

The measure would better help the state weather economic downturns, Newhouse said.

Newhouse said Gov. Kevin Stitt has endorsed the proposal, which now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Bills proposed for Oklahoma’s 2020 legislative session.

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Barbara Hoberock



Twitter: @bhoberock

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