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Oklahoma Gets More Tobacco Money

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- "Let the people decide." That's how
Attorney General Drew Edmondson would end a controversy over how to
spend tobacco settlement money.
At a Tuesday news conference, Edmondson threw out the
possibility of a statewide vote on creating a trust fund with
tobacco proceeds, only spending the interest.
Edmondson also announced the receipt of $1.7 million to
compensate the state for legal expenses involved in its lawsuit
against the tobacco industry.
The attorney general has long advocated putting the tobacco
funds in a trust fund and spending only the interest on state
programs. He also wants the lion's share of the money to go to
tobacco prevention and health-related programs.
Gov. Frank Keating and other leaders have proposed using the
funds for many different purposes. Keating has suggested that all
the money be spent on education.
Oklahoma is scheduled to receive $2.3 billion over the next 25
years as a result of the tobacco settlement. It already has
received $24 million and a $65 million payment is expected in
April.
Edmondson said the pressure will be on the 2000 Legislature to
spend the initial tobacco funds on various programs and said the
chances the trust concept can survive are less than 50-50.
He said one possible way to assure the trust fund is through an
initiative petition drive for a statewide vote on the issue. He
said he is aware of talk of that possibility from individuals in
the public health arena. But he said no active campaign is under
way.
He said the easiest way to settle the issue could be if it were
to be submitted to a statewide vote through a legislative
referendum.
"This is the basic public policy idea that needs to be
addressed," he said of whether to spend the money as it comes in
or set up a trust fund and spend only the interest.
"I very, very strongly support the concept of a trust fund,"
said Robert Butkin, state treasurer, saying that state cannot be
absolutely certain it will receive all the $2.3 billion.
"It just makes sense in every way you look at it," Butkin
said.
Edmondson said the recently announced federal lawsuit against
the tobacco industry should not have an impact on the Oklahoma
settlement, unless it eventually forces the tobacco companies to
move out of the United States, an event he doubts will take place.
Of the $1.7 million received Tuesday, $1.2 million will go into
the state's General Revenue Fund and $430,000 will be placed in the
attorney general's evidence and revolving funds.
The money is in addition to the $2.3 billion settlement.
Edmondson said 12 assistant attorney generals and two paralegals
accounted for 9,395 hours of the 11,356 total hours contributed to
the case by nine state agencies.
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