State receives payment
for tobacco settlement
Oklahoma received the first of two annual tobacco settlement payments Wednesday, with the $64.8 million payment bringing the total paid to the state under the Master Settlement Agreement since 1999, the year payments began, to $1.04 billion, state Treasurer Ken Miller said. An additional payment is expected later this week. Miller said 75 percent of the annual payment, or $48.6 million, went directly into the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund as mandated by the Oklahoma Constitution. The payment brings the trust fund balance to more than $797 million. The remainder of the annual payment is divided between a fund used for health care-related appropriations by the Legislature and the attorney general's evidence fund. The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund was created by a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2000, which specifies that only the earnings from the trust fund may be spent on programs to improve the health and well being of Oklahomans, particularly children and senior adults. Since June 2001, more than $151 million in earnings have been certified. More than $33.3 million in earnings were certified last year. In August 1996, Oklahoma became the 14th state to file a lawsuit against the tobacco companies, asking for restraints against the industry and monetary damages for state funds spent treating smoking-related illnesses. The national Master Settlement Agreement, announced in November 1998, imposed sweeping changes in tobacco advertising, banned tobacco companies from targeting children, allocated funding for tobacco education efforts and provided annual payments based on the number of cigarettes sold in the country. Payments will continue as long as cigarettes are sold.
House approves measure about quality events
The House approved a bill Wednesday that would expand the number of events that qualify under the Oklahoma Qualify Events Incentives Act. Senate Bill 976 would help the state attract and retain major events such as this year's Bassmaster Classic, said Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow, the House sponsor of the measure. SB 976 would change the quality events law to allow communities to apply less than one year from the date of the event. It also would allow negotiated events to include a national, international or world championship event or an event that is managed or produced by an Oklahoma-based national or international organization. Communities receive a portion of any incremental sales tax increase generated by the event; money can be used for recruiting, promoting and retaining the events, McNiel said. The payment a community can receive for any event is capped at $250,000, she said. Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, said the bill would destroy a good program. He said small towns would be at a disadvantage because they would have a harder time recruiting national and international events. SB 976 passed 69-22. It now goes to the governor.
MICHAEL MCNUTT, CAPITOL BUREAU