Editorial: Oklahoma’s billion-dollar trust?

Oklahoma just had a budget failure of several million dollars. The budget shortfall for 2017-2018 is estimated to be around $900 million. And Oklahomans are demanding pay raises for public school teachers.

And there is more than $1,000,000,000.00 sitting in an an account with the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

This is a classic example of how government overfunds low priorities while underfunding top priorities.

In 2000, voters were talked into creating this trust and codifying it in the Oklahoma Constitution. Money comes in from the 1998 settlement with major tobacco companies and 75 percent goes straight into the trust. The general fund gets only 18.75 percent while the Attorney General’s Office collects 6.25 percent.

Money from the trust funds some worthwhile medical residencies and medical loan repayment programs but a bunch of it is wasted on low-priority advertising against smoking.

Most smokers know that it is harmful and want to quit. But it is an addiction and watching a TV commercial or seeing a billboard is not the solution. Those should be covered by public service announcements instead of being paid for by a billion dollar trust.

Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, wants to switch future funding for the trust to health care efforts in rural Oklahoma. That’s a good idea, especially if it helps ease the budget crunch (which it would). Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, wants half of the earnings from the trust given to public schools for health care, physical education and school nurses. That’s another good idea that will help the state budget.

Stop buying ads against smoking and start spending this windfall on health concerns that really have an impact.