Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Former tobacco lobbyist Gov. Haley Barbour announced March 27 that he was vetoing a bill to provide $20 million a year to The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, an anti-smoking program financed through a $120 million annual payment from a 1990s tobacco company settlement.
Barbour filed a lawsuit against the Partnership last year, claiming the program's $20 million annual allotment needs oversight from the Legislature.
The bill Barbour vetoed granted lawmakers oversight of the program, but Barbour insisted that the money should not be automatically collected from tobacco companies and diverted to the fund. Barbour himself had demanded lawmakers send him a bill allowing oversight of the program before vetoing it.
When asked what was missing from the bill, Barbour said he wanted annual veto power over the Partnership's funding.
Sharon Garrison, communications director with the Partnership, said Barbour's statement put him at odds with legislators.
"Every previous year, there have been calls to have someone challenge the court order (giving the Partnership the $20 million) but they've never taken up that call because they agree with the goals and the work of the Partnership," Garrison said, adding that between 1999 and 2004 smoking among Mississippi high school students fell about a third. Among middle school students, it fell by about half.
In addition, Barbour has opposed all efforts to raise taxes on cigarettes, although Mississippi has some of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country—and the majority of Mississippians favor increased taxes on tobacco.
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