Tobacco Trust Fund should be kept safe

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 13, 2003

As will undoubtedly happen every legislative year when budgetsare tight, a proposal to look to the Tobacco Trust Fund as asolution to the state’s budget woes has again been put on thetable. We hope lawmakers will look for other sources.

Unlike many family and business budgets where the importance ofinvesting a portion of one’s assets for the future is understood,many in state government see things in a different light and seethe future as now.

No doubt the poor economy has put a squeeze on the state’sbudget, and state lawmakers have a daunting task ahead of them thisyear to find a way to fund services. Obvious options are to raisetaxes, unlikely in an election year, or to cut services, alsohighly unlikely in an election year.

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The easy way out is to tap the Tobacco Trust Fund, cover thebills, go home and hope for the best in the November elections.

When the Trust Fund was established in 1999, much fanfare wasmade over the fact that the interest on the tobacco monies wouldsolve Mississippi’s financial woes. Leave the principal alone andthe millions in annual interest will pour into the state coffersfor eternity. Kind of a golden egg, if you will.

During last year’s Medicaid crisis, lawmakers diverted theannual payment to the Trust Fund as a quick fix. In the short terma painless move, but in the long term, an action that will cost thestate in lost interest revenue.

Here we come on another budget crisis and some lawmakers aresearching for another quick fix to save an election year budget.Like the old tale about killing the goose that laid the golden egg– some of our lawmakers have the goose in their sight. And futuregenerations may end up paying for their shortsightedness.