Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ohio dealt decisive blow in tobacco funds dispute

The Strickland administration will mount an appeal to a Tuesday court ruling that would prevent the state from using $230 million in smoking prevention funding to help pay for home-care services under Ohio’s latest budget.

Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge David Fais’ decision bars the state from touching $230 million from the dissolved Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation. The battle over the money began in April 2008, when Gov. Ted Strickland outlined plans to use tobacco foundation money to partly finance a $1.57 billion jobs stimulus plan in the state.

With the money frozen while the legal fight played out, the state shifted the intended use of the cash to optional Medicaid services, a children’s Medicaid expansion and cancer screenings, said Strickland spokeswoman Amanda Wurst.

In the ruling, Fais wrote that two pieces of legislation backing a liquidation of the foundation and transfer of the money are unenforceable because they “clearly violate” tenets of the state Constitution. Assets in the foundation’s endowment fund are now in the state Treasury’s custody, but they’re to be used solely for tobacco prevention programs mounted by public or private agencies.

Wurst said Strickland was disappointed by the ruling and the time it took to reach a decision. The governor has asked state Attorney General Richard Cordray to speed an appeal of Fais’ ruling “to ensure these vital services continue for Ohioans.”

“Today’s ruling will delay or jeopardize the ability of these health-care services to continue to serve the people of Ohio,” Wurst said.

Fais reiterated a position he held when issuing an injunction on use of the money last February: The state had a reasonable alternative to raiding the tobacco fund for the jobs stimulus plan by issuing bonds instead.