Legislators oppose tapping tobacco trust
BILOXI - Legislators who oversee funding for the state's public health programs said Thursday they will oppose Gov. Ronnie Musgrove's plan to use money from the state's tobacco lawsuit settlement to provide pay raises to state employees and staffs at univ
"I don't want the governor to misstate that we're not in support of a pay increase, we are," Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, told an audience of about 150 attending an educational conference put on by the state Department of Mental Health at Grand Casino Biloxi. "We're just not going to get a cent of it out of the tobacco trust fund."
Before a pay raise for teachers passed in a one-issue special session last month, Musgrove traveled the state speaking critically of legislators for failing to remove a 5 percent economic growth requirement each year to trigger pay raises approved in the 2000 regular session.
Musgrove could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Flaggs said legislators could fund the pay raises by getting "creative and innovative" in budgeting, while asking state and federal agencies to cut duplicate services.
The $650 billion tobacco lawsuit trust fund will receive $210 million this year and top $1 billion within two years, if the proceeds remain untapped. Interest from the trust fund goes to state health programs. The Department of Mental Health will get $15.2 million in the current fiscal year as part of its $470 million budget.
Musgrove proposes a freeze on the trust fund and redirecting $150 million in future collections into the general fund to attract $450 million in matching federal money.
But Rep. Bobby Moody, D-Louisville, chairman of the House Public Health and Welfare Committee, said that once money goes in the general fund, then "you never get it back."
Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, the immediate past vice chairman of the Senate public health committee, opposes running earmarked money for health-care programs through the general fund.
"We must supplement and enhance what we're doing, rather than replacing the money we're currently putting in," Simmons said. "Because if we do that we very well could lose ground."