State Lawmakers Want To Tap Tobacco Money To Ease Economic Crunch

Right now, the law is set up so that money can only be used for health care needs. The trust fund has nearly $600 million in it. To some state leaders, it looks like an oasis in a desert during tough financial times. But Attorney General Mike Moore isn't willing to just hand the money over to help out the budget.

"If there are some possibilities out there where we can make lots of money, put a dollar in and make $4, I'd be glad to take a look at that. But if it's dollar for dollar going into other things besides health care, they're going to have a pretty big fight on their hands with me," Moore said.

Payments from the settlement will come into the state forever, but the amount we receive depends on the sales of tobacco products. For example, since the first year of our settlement, 66 billion fewer cigarettes were sold by tobacco companies in America. That was about a 14 percent decrease in sales. The attorney general figures that trend will probably continue.

Moore says the payments will decrease somewhere between 10 and 14 percent. Gov. Musgrove has talked about using trust fund money for various programs and so have other lawmakers. House Appropriations Chair Charlie Capps says it's possible.

"Oh, anything's possible. If you can get 62 votes, then anything's possible. But I don't have any feeling of the members at this time that they are willing to jump in and just start erasing all that tobacco money," Capps said.

Lawmakers will hold hearings next week to listen to the governor's proposal to redirect the tobacco trust fund money.