In November, voters will be asked to weigh in on State Question 814—though less than 60 days from the election little has been said about the legislative referendum.
In short, the ballot says: “This measure amends Section 40 to reduce the percentage of proceeds that go into the TSET Fund from 75% to 25%. As a result, the remaining 75% will go to the legislative fund and the legislature may continue to direct a portion to the attorney general.
The measure would also restrict the use of the legislative fund. Section 40 currently states only that the legislative fund is subject to legislative appropriation. If this measure passes, money from the legislative fund must be used to get federal matching funds for Oklahoma’s Medicaid Program.”
“Since the Master settlement agreement, the tobacco companies pay a settlement to the state of Oklahoma. Seventy-five percent of these funds are then put in a trust (TSET) and the remaining 25% goes to the legislature.
“TSET then takes the earnings from the trust and funds programs to help improve the health outcomes in Oklahoma. They help fund community grants, TSET HLP, cancer research, rural doctors, etc,” said Jody Reiss, who works for the TSET HLP program.
“If this proposal passes the payments will be split 25% to TSET and 75% to the legislature. The funds that are currently in the trust will remain in the trust, however, this will change appropriation of future master settlement payments.”
Senator Marty Quinn said he thinks that if the state question passes, it will be a good thing for Oklahoma.
“This is where they’re trying to change the structure of TSET. Originally that was designed to help with health related, preventative, things but over the years they’ve spent a lot of money on ad campaigns and things of that nature.
“With the Medicaid thing passing there’s going to be a lot of financial requirements out there for that….we’re interested in trying to help people on the Medicaid side. It would be better served towards some of those things than on a billboard,” Quinn said. “I definitely thing there’s been some good things with the TSET money but there’s been a lot of unnecessary expenses that could have gone to a lot better choices.”
He said if the measure passes thee re-allocated TSET money “won’t come anywhere close” to covering the Medicaid expansion cost, but that every bit of funding helps.
Senator Mark Lepak weighed in as well.
“Oklahoma sees an average of $78 million from tobacco settlement funds, 75% of which is placed into TSET’s trust fund, valued at over a billion dollars. These settlement monies, including the earnings within the fund, are used for various smoking-cessation and other health-related programs, as decided by their un-elected board.
“The other 25% goes to the state legislature for appropriations, a portion of which is used to fund the Attorney General’s office. I believe the corpus of that fund has grown every year since it was established, and I think it is right for Oklahomans to re-evaluate its use,” Lepak said.
“SQ814 requires that 75% of annual tobacco settlement funds go to support Oklahoma’s share of Medicaid expense. Less than three months ago, Oklahoman’s approved Medicaid expansion without a means to pay for the additional $200M it is expected to cost annually. While redirecting these funds won’t cover the full costs, I am supportive of SQ814, and would have supported it even without the passage of Medicaid expansion.
“State costs for the existing Medicaid program have been increasing at an unsustainable level for many years, and have been reducing funds available for support of other priorities, such as education, transportation, and other public services.
“The legislature’s primary responsibility every year is to produce a balanced budget, and it should have access to nearly all state revenues to do so in a way that aligns priorities with those of Oklahoma’s citizens. TSET can continue all its anti-smoking initiatives with the remaining annual average of $19.5 million, plus the annual earnings on its $1 billion trust fund.”
Oklahoma State Senator and measure sponsor Kim David (R) said, “With the budget situation that we have now ... the last thing we want to do right now is next year or the year after look at possible budget cuts to health care or the provider rate cuts that we’ve had in the past, we want to make sure that we can continue to support all health care in Oklahoma.”
American Cancer Society Action Network government relations director Matt Glanville said, “Year after year, members of the Legislature suggest using Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) funds to bail out the budget, or fund other projects outside their constitutional mandate. What is being proposed… is a diversion of funding from Oklahoma’s primary source of tobacco control and prevention funding amid a public health crisis.
At this critical moment, we must do everything in our power to keep our communities healthy and safe, which means building strong public health infrastructure including comprehensive tobacco control measures...It is short-sighted and worrisome to consider such sweeping changes to a proven program when public health has never been more important. The Legislature must leave the endowment to do its job and help ensure a strong, healthy Oklahoma.”