Meacham announces boost for health funding

$17.8 Million Certified for Use Improving Oklahomans’ Health

From CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

In spite of historic losses in investment markets throughout the world in the past year, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund Board of Directors has certified a 14.5 percent increase in earnings for use combating tobacco addiction and other health issues, State Treasurer Scott Meacham announced last week.

The board, which oversees investment of Oklahoma’s share of the national Master Settlement Agreement, met on Wednesday and certified $17.8 million in investment income for use in improving the health of Oklahomans.

Each year, the board certifies actual dividends and interest earned after investment fees are paid.

“In spite of the historic downturn in the financial markets during the past year, our strategy is paying off and proving to be a wise investment choice,” Meacham said. “This certification reflects an increase of $2.3 million or 14.5 percent over the funds made available last year from investment of Oklahoma’s share of the tobacco settlement”.

Since Meacham took office in 2005, annual earnings of the tobacco settlement endowment have more than tripled.

Earnings from the fund are growing due to two changes the board adopted at Meacham’s recommendation. Meacham negotiated new investment contracts to cut the fees paid and the portfolio was redistributed to generate additional certified earnings while protecting the principal value of the fund.

Oklahoma is the only state with a constitutionally-protected endowment to fund programs that will reduce tobacco use and improve the health of Oklahomans. Voters approved creation of the endowment in 2000.

Since its inception, more than $50 million in earnings have been generated by the board of investors.

The endowment currently contains more than $429 million. Investment of the funds is managed by the Board of Investors. Spending of the earnings is controlled by a separately appointed Board of Directors. Among the programs funded is a toll-free Tobacco Helpline, 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) and the Tobacco Stops With Me advertising campaign.

Unlike standard endowments that are allowed to spend a set percentage of the value of the total fund each year, the Oklahoma Constitution limits the tobacco endowment to spending only actual earnings.

A total of 75 percent of Oklahoma’s share of the national Master Settlement Agreement is placed into the endowment each year. The remainder of the settlement payment is appropriated by the Legislature.