Tobacco trust

The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust is funded with a portion of the state’s annual payment from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry. Tulsa World file

Pending legislation would ask voters to shift most of the money Oklahoma gets as a result of a monumental 1998 tobacco lawsuit settlement from a lockbox endowment dedicated to health programs to the Legislature.

In 2000, Oklahoma voters overwhelming approved State Question 692, which dedicated much of the state’s annual share of the multistate master settlement to the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. The plan, engineered by then-Attorney General Drew Edmondson, initially dedicated half of the money to the trust with the rest going to the Legislature. Since 2007, the endowment has gotten 75%.

While other states have spent through their tobacco settlement money, Oklahoma has built a $1.3 billion endowment. The earnings are used to fund research, programs to help Oklahomans stop smoking and wellness programs.

We’ll admit we have been ambivalent at times about some of the endowment’s projects, but its board and managers have used data-driven standards and can show their results.

We’ve said before that what the voters do should not be blithely undone by the Legislature, but 20 years after the vote on SQ 692 it might be time to ask the voters if that’s still what they want done.

Senate Joint Resolution 27 — OK’d by the Senate Rules Committee last week — asks voters to flip the settlement funding: 25% to TSET, the rest to the Legislature.

Senate Joint Resolution 28 would change the way TSET does business, spending settlement money as it comes in, instead of investing it and spending the earnings.

SJR 27 would essentially ask voters who they trust with public money: the Legislature or the endowment’s managers. Both proposals would clearly go against the current trend of thinking in the state Capitol — that the state isn’t saving enough money.

But with the state looking around for a way to fund Medicaid expansion, a potentially game-changing shift in how Oklahoma deals with health care, both issues deserve a place on the ballot, where the people can decide what’s right.


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