Lynch: Use federal funds wisely

John O'Brien Feb. 24, 2009, 5:00pm


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch is warning lawmakers not to spend the coming federal stimulus funds like they have with monies from a landmark tobacco settlement.

Lynch wrote Gov. Donald Carcieri, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed and Speaker of the House William Murphy on Tuesday, asking them to lead the way in adopting a nonpartisan spirit to use the funding best. A $94 million installment of the more than $1 billion the State is set to receive shows up Wednesday.

In 2007, lawmakers asked Lynch if it were legal to use the annual payments made to Rhode Island by tobacco manufacturers to plug holes in the budget. Lynch said it was, and $195 million in tobacco money was sold as a bond expected to be paid off in 40 years.

At the time, Lynch said he had concerns with how the money was going to be spent but concluded that he was "not the gatekeeper of this money." To fix the previous year's budget shortfall, lawmakers used more than $60 million.

"We must not squander these monies and this opportunity because we were too anxious, or because we were feeding into the desperation of the times," Lynch said.

"Whether in bidding processes, environmental assessments, or statutory construction, we cannot jeopardize our citizens today or our taxpayers in the future because we got caught up in the moment or were on a tight time frame.

"We must proceed in a timely fashion, but without haste. We must proceed, as Hall of Fame UCLA (men's basketball) coach John Wooden reminded his teams so often, to 'Be quick but don't hurry.' There is far too much at stake."

Lynch, the current president of the National Association of Attorneys General, will lead a discussion next week in Washington, D.C., about the role of state oversight in the spending of federal stimulus funds authorized earlier this month by President Obama.

The tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 allows approximately 40 tobacco companies to do business in the 52 participating states and territories. It has an estimated worth of $246 billion in its first 25 years.

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