Musgrove should use care in tapping tobacco money

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2001

Like a hungry bear eyeing a pot of fresh honey, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove just can’t help but salivate at the sight of $1 billion sitting in a bank.

On Thursday, Musgrove announced he wants to taste a bit of the sweet tobacco settlement funds.

In 1994, Mississippi was a pioneer becoming the first state to sue the tobacco industry. The state settled the lawsuit in 1997. The settlement will ultimately provide the state with $4 billion over 25 years.

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Lawmakers decided to put all the money into a trust fund in 1999. The principle remains untouched and the earnings, about $60 million this year, are spent on health care issues.

About $650 million is currently in the fund, but that number is expected to grow to $2 billion over the next two years.

Musgrove wants to increase the amount of trust-fund money spent on health projects.

His goal in doing so is to free other funds which might allow pay raises for state employees. Employees, no doubt, need and deserve pay raises, however spending the tobacco settlement money, just because it’s available, may not be the best solution.

While we applaud Musgrove for seeking unconventional funding sources, Mississippi doesn’t need to spend away the trust fund money without careful consideration.

We urge Musgrove and our lawmakers to use care and good stewardship when considering whether or not to tap into the tobacco fund. The tobacco fund is, in some ways, Mississippi’s pot of honey. We don’t need to waste it.