Tobacco funds left hanging
OKLAHOMA CITY -- House Speaker Loyd Benson said an upcoming special session might be used to correct a budget glitch that was caused when lawmakers failed to pass a bill appropriating tobacco settlement money.
Benson, D-Frederick, said a "rush of last-minute" legislation on the last day of the regular session prevented the House from voting on Senate Bill 1404. The bill calls for tobacco settlement money that is collected from April of this year through the next fiscal year that ends June 30, 2001, to be placed in a tobacco settlement fund.
Voters will decide in November whether to create a Constitutional Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund. Should voters approve the constitutional fund, $50 million would be transferred from the legislatively created tobacco fund to the new constitutional fund next fiscal year.
However, money that was anticipated to be left in the legislatively created tobacco fund after the $50 million transfer was bud geted for state agencies.
Benson said that without Senate Bill 1404, funding for the Department of Human Services may fall short by $3 million.
He said that if the situation is not addressed during a special session, the Legislature could make up the shortfall with a supplemental appropriation to the Department of Human Services early next year.
"Because of this oversight, and since we're probably going to be in a short special session anyway, we might as well take advantage of the opportunity to fix it now," Benson said.
Howard Barnett, Keating's chief of staff, indicated he was willing to work with the Legislature on the issue.
However, Barnett said it was his understanding that the Legislature may have overbudgeted to the tune of $15 million without passage of SB 1404.
The Department of Human Services' appropriation includes $14.3 million in tobacco money.