Remember the guy pictured above? His name is State Sen. Bryce Marlatt. In December of 2014, he was arrested by Woodward police and slapped with DUI-related charges when police found him passed out in a car after having "what you would call a bourbon and Coke" and drinking "no more than anyone else."
Fifteen years after Oklahoma voters created an endowed trust for programs that discourage tobacco use and promote healthy lifestyles, a state lawmaker wants to use the fund to pay for raises for teachers.Republican state Sen. Bryce Marlatt, of Woodward, has proposed a constitutional amendment to let Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust funds be used to boost teacher salaries. Oklahoma teachers have not had a raise since 2008 and are among the lowest paid in the nation with an average starting salary of about $31,000.Marlatt says that with a fund balance of just under $1 billion, the tobacco endowment can finance a pay raise without sacrificing its original goal. But opponents say using a one-time funding source to pay for recurring teacher salaries will not work.
That sounds like a great plan... if you're an 8th grader who hates his teacher and thinks smoking is cool!
According to a quick Google search, there are approximately 46,000 teachers in Oklahoma. They, on average, earn $44,128 a year. To give each one of them a 10% cost of living raise would run about $184,000,000 annually. I'm not good at Craig Humphreys' new math, but I'm pretty sure that means the State Tobacco Trust would run out of money in seven or eight years. Fortunately, by the time that happens, there should be a billion-dollar Oklahoma Earthquake Settlement Trust for lawmakers to tap into.
Of course, one negative aspect to Marlatt's plan is the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust would lose all its money. That would really upset all the organizations and non-profits who earn grants from TSET, and all the ad agencies and media companies that rake in millions of dollars producing and running anti-smoking and Shape Your Future ads (like we once did). Naturally, TSET is against the move:
Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in our state, even as smoking rates in Oklahoma have reached historic lows. Oklahoma’s smoking rate is still far above the current national average and above the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan 2020 goal of 18 percent. Every day the equivalent of a classroom of Oklahoma children become addicted to tobacco, and 87,000 Oklahoma kids alive today will ultimately die from smoking."Oklahoma continues to rank near the bottom for health. Voters certainly have the power to voice their preference and priorities at the ballot box. Taking funds from ongoing successful efforts that improve health is not the answer.” -- Casey Killblane, TSET Board of Director member, appointed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Does the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust really need to set on a $1,000,000,000 pile of cash while so many state agencies are being squeezed by funding cuts, low energy tax rates and tighter budgets? Probably not. Times have changed, and maybe it's time to rethink how our state spends and distributes that money. I guess some of it could possibly be used to provide temporary relief to other agencies and causes, but the teacher pay crisis in our state doesn't need temporary relief. It needs a longer term solution. What is that solution? I have no clue. I'm still hungover from last night's bourbon and Coke. As Marlatt proves, that's not the best time to brainstorm new ideas.