CL – Tobacco trust fund money not in a trust – spend the rest on the budget

One key surprise in Gov. Haley Barbour’s “State of the State” address on Monday was this painfully blunt message to lawmakers in talking about their management of the Health Care Trust Fund.

“Since I’ve been governor, it has become clear to me that (the Health Care Trust Fund) is not and never will be held in trust in the true sense of the word,” Barbour said. “It will never build up since the interest or earnings are not large enough to be material in future budgets. So, while I didn’t propose it, if it is the will of the Legislature, I will agree to spending down the balance of the existing fund, as long as it is done on a schedule of equal payments over a period of at least four years.”

It’s clear, as Barbour noted, that state government will be looking at every available dollar over the next three fiscal years. The Health Care Trust Fund and the state’s “rainy day” fund are the two largest remaining sources of special funds.

Lawmakers should take Barbour up on his offer. Stop the charade and use the HCTF balance – systematically over the next three to four years – to cushion future budget cuts.

Why? The horse is out of the barn. The HCTF concept was a noble one and represents a monumental lost opportunity. But it’s already gone.

Clarion Ledger
1/24/10