Even though no agreement has been reached on the ultimate use of Oklahoma's $2.3 billion tobacco settlement, the state needs to begin the process of structuring a special tobacco trust fund, according to Senator Stratton Taylor, the leader of the Oklahoma State Senate.
In an effort to get such discussions underway, the Senate President Pro Tempore today announced that he has authored draft legislation that could ultimately be used as a vehicle to address the trust fund question.
"I think almost everyone agrees that a substantial share of the tobacco funds should ultimately be deposited in a trust fund. Before we get caught up in deciding where the money will be spent, it's important to start laying the groundwork for a special savings account for the people of Oklahoma," said Senator Taylor (D-Claremore).
"I'm just trying to get the ball rolling so serious discussions can begin on this issue. I want to stress that my proposal is just a draft and I fully expect it to evolve over time as we talk through the many questions that surround the creation of a trust fund."
Some of the questions that need to be answered during the trust fund discussion include:
Under Senator Taylor's draft 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 critical that this be a bipartisan panel with representatives from all four corners of the state. It's also important to have 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 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, this draft proposal will help stimulate the thoughtful discussions we need to have to reach a consensus on this important issue. It's critical that we devote some time to structuring a savings account that will best serve the people of Oklahoma," said Senator Taylor.