Senator Stratton Taylor's proposal for a state tobacco trust fund will soon be heard by the Oklahoma State Senate. The bill cleared its first legislative hurdle at the end of last week, earning a do-pass recommendation from the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"I think there's a lot of support for the idea of setting up a special trust fund to hold a substantial share of the state's tobacco settlement money. I still view this legislation as a work in progress, but the positive reaction it has received thus far is encouraging," said Senator Taylor, Senate President Pro Tempore.
Even though no agreement has been reached on the ultimate use of Oklahoma's $2.3 billion tobacco settlement, Senator Taylor believes the state needs to begin the process of structuring a special tobacco trust fund. In an effort to get such discussions underway, he introduced SB 1404 - legislation that would create such a special savings account.
"I think most people agree that we need to set up a savings account for the people of Oklahoma, but it's important that we spend some time discussing how such a trust fund would function," noted Senator Taylor.
Under Senator Taylor's proposal, the trust fund would be administered by a seven-member board of directors appointed by a variety of state officials. The panel would be a bipartisan body of highly qualified individuals representing all parts of the state.
"I think it's very important that this be a bipartisan panel with a number of different appointing authorities so no single person will control how the state invests or spends its tobacco money. We should hear from a lot of different voices and regions of the state when those decisions are made," said Senator Taylor.
Under Taylor's proposal, the following guidelines would govern the board and its appointees:
Currently, Oklahoma's annual share of its $2.3 billion tobacco settlement is deposited directly into the state general revenue account. The state will receive the annual payments for the next 25 years. Several state officials have talked about creating a trust fund for a portion of the money, but no official action has been taken yet.
"Hopefully, as my proposal moves through the legislative process, it will stimulate more discussions about the future of the state's tobacco settlement. This is a very important issue that needs to be debated thoroughly and decided carefully," said Senator Taylor.
The full Senate is expected to vote on SB 1404 in the next three weeks.