Don’t give up on tobacco trust fund

Gov. Haley Barbour, normally a stickler for fiscal prudence, has thrown in the towel on preserving the principal of Mississippi’s tobacco trust fund.

So has the state’s largest newspaper, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, which has for years chastised the Legislature for raiding the Health Care Trust Fund to cover budget shortfalls.

Lawmakers, reason Barbour and the Clarion-Ledger, have shown for more than a decade that their promise to let the trust fund build up and only spend the interest from it was hollow. They say, with good justification, that the Legislature’s pledge to pay back the money it has technically borrowed from the trust fund will never be fulfilled.

Instead of pretending any longer that lawmakers will keep their promise, Barbour says he will sign off on a reasonable plan to spend the remaining balance — currently $220 million — over at least the next four years. Presumably, from that point on, the annual settlement payments Mississippi receives from the tobacco industry would be spent in full. The Clarion-Ledger’s editorial writers have signed off on Barbour’s proposal.

Greenwood Commonwealth
1/25/10