Overruling a lower-court decision, Ohio's 10th District Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the state has the right to seize $258 million in funding designated for antismoking programs and use it for other purposes, the Toledo Blade reported Jan. 1.
However, the court restrained the state from immediately taking the money pending further appeals in the case.
The money was previously controlled by the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation and came from the state's share of the nationwide tobacco settlement. A lower court said that the state had committed the money to the foundation and could not take it back, but the three-judge appeals panel disagreed.
“States desiring to permanently restrict the use of their tobacco settlement money have done so expressly through constitutional amendments,” the court ruled. “Ohio has never promulgated a constitutional amendment restricting the use of its tobacco settlement funds. Accordingly, the General Assembly retained its power to legislate with regard to those funds.”
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican lawmakers wanted to raid the fund to help pay for a job-creation program in 2008, but the tobacco-prevention foundation responded by voting to transfer $190 million of its funding to the American Legacy Foundation, a national charity dedicated to smoking prevention. State lawmakers retaliated by dismantling the Ohio foundation and trying to seize all of its funding, prompting the current lawsuit.
Strickland and his allies now say they want to use the money for health programs, a move that has won some support from social-service programs in the state.