Attorney again challenges tobacco settlement
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- An attorney is trying again to challenge the constitutionality of a plan in which three commissions determine how to spend the state's $4.6 billion share of the national tobacco settlement.
Eugene Boyce of Raleigh, spurned in one lawsuit filed in 1999, has filed another one, this time focusing on whether the General Assembly overstepped its bounds by giving spending authority to the commissions.
"This is a lawsuit to correct the unconstitutional manner in which the attorney general went about handling public funds from the tobacco settlement," Boyce said Thursday. "The people's money should go to the legislature."
Boyce first sued on behalf of taxpayers who wanted a say in how the state spent its share of the settlement. It also objected to a judge's order creating a $1 billion private trust to benefit leaf growers.
The plan establishing the commissions was worked out by Gov. Mike Easley -- while attorney general -- and top legislators. It was then approved by Judge Donald Stephens in 1998 and later by the Legislature.
Stephens threw out Boyce's first lawsuit, saying his claim came too late. An appeals court agreed last year. But Boyce said the appeals court indicated in its decision that he could file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the settlement.
In the latest lawsuit, Boyce and the eight taxpayers he represents want a judge to order the settlement money put into the state treasury, where lawmakers can then decide how to spend it.
The settlement money currently is divided among the commissions to be spent on health programs, tobacco-dependent communities, growers and government quota owners.
A spokeswoman for Easley referred all calls to Attorney General Roy Cooper, who defended the agreement.
"It's important that our tobacco money continue to be invested in North Carolina's people, with prescription drugs for seniors, better-paying jobs, and help for our farmers," Cooper said in a statement. "The courts have dismissed this lawsuit already and we trust they will again."
One commission, the state's Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission, approved a three-year, $105 million plan to help more than 100,000 low-income, elderly North Carolina residents pay for prescription drugs.
Boyce already has successfully forced the state to pay more than $1 billion to settle lawsuits over the taxation of the pensions of state and federal retirees and one involving an illegal intangibles tax.