State should not handle tobacco funds

Published 6:00 am Thursday, January 11, 2007

Quick, grab your wallets. There’s a pickpocket in our midst, or perhaps the better way to describe it is pickpockets, plural.

The Mississippi Legislature, following Gov. Haley Barbour’s lead is considering — again — grabbing $20 million in tobacco settlement funds.

The funds were earmarked for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, a private, nonprofit group that promotes tobacco prevention and cessation programs. For five and half years, the funds were going to the partnership and everyone was happy, everyone except the governor and the Legislature.

Email newsletter signup

A bill floating through the Legislature would create a “cousin” (as one lawmaker described it) to the Partnership.

Only this “cousin” would be a state agency, not a private partnership. Most private citizens might agree that the private sector generally handles money a bit better than does government. Look no further than the infamous overpriced toilet seats and hammers that created headlines a year back as evidence of government mismanagement and overspending.

It’s almost as though lawmakers simply cannot stand having someone else touch any money. Keep in mind, however, that this money isn’t, per se, tax money. This is money that was provided through the landmark tobacco settlement. It’s “free” money provided by the tobacco industry.

Before lawmakers reinvent the wheel and essentially pick the pockets of Mississippi residents, someone should show us all how the state could manage tobacco programs better than the private sector.

Short of that, lawmakers need to get their hands out of our pockets.