Tight times gut tobacco trust fund

VICKSBURG — “Shall be held inviolate.”

Pretty serious words.

When the Legislature decided to accept the cash negotiated in former Attorney General Mike Moore’s settlement with the group of cigarette-makers who have come to be known as Big Tobacco, Mississippi was riding a wave of prosperity.

The year was 1997. The national economy was in such good shape President Bill Clinton was saying the federal government would soon stop spending more than it received. In Mississippi, Gov. Kirk Fordice was crediting his businesslike approach for double-digit percentage increases in state revenue, although a new industry, casino gambling, had a lot to do with it, too.

“Surplus” was in the headlines, not “shortfall.”

Against that rosy backdrop, lawmakers pledged every penny of the tobacco settlement — except legal fees and an annual allocation for tobacco cessation programs — would “be held inviolate” in an investment portfolio called the Health Care Trust Fund.

Greenwood Commonwealth