Oklahoma voters will decide two state questions on Election Day. We encourage you to support one and reject the other.

State Question 814 would change how monies going into the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) are apportioned. Since the early 2000s, Oklahoma has received annual payments from Big Tobacco. Seventy-five percent of those funds are dedicated to TSET for investment and 25 percent is given to the Legislature for appropriations. TSET has about $1.3 billion in its fund, of which only the interest can be spent.

State Question 814 would change the allocation of the TSET funds. TSET would receive 25 percent of the funds and the other 75 percent would go into a special fund, of which almost 92 percent would be used to help the state pay for the federal matching funds for Medicaid. The other 8 percent would go into the attorney general’s evidence fund. This is only the interest generated on the funds received. Now changes are proposed to the “corpus”, the payments themselves, past or future.

In June, Oklahoma residents voted to expand Medicaid in the state. Now we have to pay for it. The federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost of expansion, but we will have to pay 10 percent, estimated to be $164 million annually.

Passage of SQ 814 means we have to amend the state Constitution because TSET was set up constitutionally. We generally are opposed to amending the state Constitution, but believe it is necessary to do so in this circumstance. Since TSET has more than $1 billion in its fund and will continue to receive payments from Big Tobacco, it makes sense to tap it to provide health care for Oklahoma’s poorest residents.

The other state question facing voters is SQ 805 which would end the sentence enhancements against some repeat offenders. District attorneys use sentence enhancements in cases where those convicted of a prior felony can be sentenced to more than the maximum sentence allowed by the Legislature.

Supporters of the question say passing SQ 805 will lower Oklahoma’s high imprisonment rate, which would save taxpayer dollars. The state’s imprisonment rate certainly needs to be lowered, but SQ 805 is not the answer.

Those who oppose the state question point out that juries would not be able to increase sentences for those who are convicted of some repeat felonies, among them domestic abuse.

This question also would amend the state Constitution. We feel this is a problem the Legislature should fix and can be done so without amending the state Constitution. We urge you to vote no on this question.

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