Give voters a say on using TSET funds
It costs just $51.45 per person per day for the state of Oklahoma to fully fund all state share costs of a nursing home bed.
The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust spent $653,150 in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 on a project called Free The Night, which offers “promotional opportunities to smokefree bars and clubs.” That same $653,150 could have been used to fund 12,694 days for nursing home beds for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable.
Think about that number for just a moment. That’s 12,694 days for vulnerable Oklahoma grandmothers and grandfathers.
Shouldn’t TSET’s money and energy be refocused on things like critical health care, critical health and human services, or critical mental health and substance abuse services? Absolutely. In fact, some of TSET’s mandates include “Programs … designed to maintain or improve the health of Oklahomans” and “Programs designed to enhance the health and well-being of senior adults.”
TSET needs to be refocused on paying for core services to the most vulnerable Oklahomans, especially during tough economic times, rather than questionable grant programs and harassing Oklahomans about their personal lifestyle decisions aside from smoking. With more than $1 billion in the bank, investment earnings of about $40 million per year, and additional income of $50 million per year from the sale of cigarettes, it’s obvious TSET offers state leaders an opportunity to shore up core services.
TSET reports that it spends a little less than 40 percent on tobacco cessation and a whopping 30 percent on “obesity” efforts. Over the years, TSET has received greater scrutiny as it has engaged in efforts to provide communities with grants in exchange for them harassing law-abiding Oklahomans who have chosen to use vaping products to help break their far more harmful traditional smoking habit. They also have spent millions of dollars with expensive public relations firms and on advertising.
Last year, public outrage forced TSET to change course when it attempted to create an administrative position with a salary of $250,000 a year. Most recently, TSET released a multi-million dollar bid to further harass Oklahomans about their personal lifestyle decisions aside from smoking.
This is why the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs has called on lawmakers to allow Oklahomans to vote on reforming TSET and accessing those funds to protect vital services. The state constitution says that reforming TSET requires a vote of the people. But so does passing any tax hike that has less than three-fourths support in both legislative chambers. Why not let Oklahomans vote to reform TSET?
Core services continue to suffer from unreformed spending. TSET’s spending is just one example of a government entity making highly questionable spending decisions at a time when we need to prioritize core services.
It’s time to use TSET funds to protect critical, core services. The Legislature should not leave the special session without sending TSET reforms to a vote of the people by the end of calendar year 2017.