Miss. Supreme Court says diverting tobacco money to Partnership
unconstitutional, Governor Says he Pursued the Right Course
by Keith Burton - GCN 6/14/07
The Mississippi Supreme Court ended a seething controversy over the
handling of millions of dollars of tobacco funds given to the state. The
court ruled 6-1 that the annual diversion of $20 million of tobacco
settlement funds to a smoking cessation program was unconstitutional. The
Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, which went out of business last
month when money dried up, had appealed to the court after Governor Haley
Barbour had obtained a court order in 2006 which said only the state
legislature could appropriate money.
In a statement released to GCN, it is clear that Governor Barbour feels
vindicated in going after the Partnership for a Health Mississippi to
obtain the funds for the state.
Supreme Court's near-unanimous decision in the Partnership case
emphatically confirms what has always been obvious, only the Mississippi
Legislature can appropriate the state's money. A local judge and the
Attorney General have no power to give taxpayer money to a private
"It's a shame it look a long, drawn-out lawsuit to stop this illegal and
unconstitutional diversion of taxpayer money," said Barbour.
Gov. Haley Barbour, along with the Medicaid program and the Health Care
Trust Fund had argued the money was illegally diverted to the Partnership.
The court in its ruling agreed.
Mississippi in 1997 settled its lawsuit against the tobacco industry,
which was filed to recover public costs of treating sick smokers. The
Partnership was created by former Attorney General Mike Moore as a non
profit organization to handle the receipt of the money from the tobacco
lawsuit. Mississippi is collecting about $4 billion over 25 years in its
tobacco lawsuit settlement, with most of the money going to the Health
Care Trust Fund, which was established by the Legislature and pays for a
variety of programs.
The lawsuit against the tobacco companies was spearheaded by then
Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, who later went on to become the
director of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. While the
partnership was coordinating some anti tobacco programs, behind the scenes
it was being criticized for becoming a funding source for democratic
Governor Barbour determined that the Partnership was receiving money
that technically should be going into the state treasury and obtained a
court order in 2006 that stopped the money from going to the Partnership.
According to a Associated Press news report, "The $20 million given
annually to the Partnership has never been appropriated," Justice George
E. Carlson Jr. wrote for the majority. "The tobacco installment payments
are monies that unquestionably belong to the state of Mississippi, and all
of these payments, including the annual payments which were diverted to
the Partnership, should have been placed in the Health Care Trust Fund
until properly appropriated by the Legislature."
In the statement on the case by Justice Carlson, as the diversion of
the money to the Partnership had been determined illegal dating back to
Dec. 22, 2000, the Partnership must repay any remaining money. There
remains now the question of whether the Partnership will have to repay
money it has spent already.