Coalition to push for trust fund

Thursday, September 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson joined with other state leaders Wednesday in a coalition to support a constitutional amendment to create a tobacco settlement trust fund.

Voters will consider creating the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund when they cast ballots on State Question 692 in the Nov.

7 general election.

Oklahoma's share of the national tobacco settlement is projected to total $2.3 billion over the next 25 years. However, the payments will continue as long as cigarettes are sold in the country.

"The purposes of the tobacco lawsuit will not be accomplished until the money is safeguarded and spent for the health of Oklahoma citizens," Edmondson said.

If approved, the trust fund would receive 50 percent of the tobacco revenue in its first year and an additional 5 percent each of the next five years until it reaches a cap of 75 percent. The remainder of the tobacco money would go into the state's general revenue fund, which could be spent by the Legislature.

Only the interest from the trust fund could be spent on an annual basis, and then only for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, health care programs with emphasis on children, research on cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, programs designed to enhance the well-being of senior citizens and education programs.

State Treasurer Robert Butkin said the trust fund makes good fiscal sense. He said the exact amount of tobacco money that the state will receive cannot be predicted with certainty and may decline along with the decline of smoking.

"The worst thing you could do is build the money into the recurring (state) budget base," he said.

Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, one of the architects of the trust fund, said the constitutional fund would remove most of the tobacco money from the legislative appropriations process.

"For two years we've been trying to protect the money coming into the state by not allowing it to flow into the general revenue fund like it did this year," Askins said.

The coalition has begun raising money for a statewide campaign to promote SQ 692. Edmondson acknowledged that the fund-raising has gotten a late start, adding that a statewide media campaign will cost at least $250,000.

Paul Moore, chief operating officer for the American Cancer Society's Heartland Division, donated a $30,000 check for the campaign. The Oklahoma State Medical Association plans to contribute $15,000 and the Oklahoma Coalition on Health and Tobacco will give $5,000.