OHIO - judge rules money can not be diverted from anti-tobacco fund..

August 12, 2009 - A judge ruled Tuesday, August 11th that state officials had no authority to divert $230 million from an anti-tobacco fund to balance the recently approved state budget. The ruling by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David Fais said the state cannot spend the funds, which were frozen after anti-smoking advocates filed a suit seeking to protect the money. In his ruling, Fais said that draining the anti-tobacco fund "would result in a substantial increase in medical expense for both Ohioans and the state of Ohio for treatment of tobacco-related disease."

The decision blows a hole in the $50.5 billion spending plan and means that human services programs that provide health care for the poor and services for abused children and adults could face another round of slashing and burning.

Attorney General Richard Cordray appealed Fais' decision to the 10th Ohio District Court of Appeals later Tuesday. Cordray's office asked the appeals court to stay the judge's ruling and hold arguments on the matter.

Amanda Wurst, spokeswoman for the Democratic governor, said that if the ruling isn't reversed, human services programs for thousands of Ohioans will have to be axed. "We do expect to win on appeal, but if we don't we will have to make budgetary decisions at that time," Wurst said. "But there would likely be cuts to these essential health-care services."

Ellen Vargyas, general counsel for the anti-smoking American Legacy Foundation, one of the parties to the lawsuit, said the judge's decision ensures that the tobacco money goes for its intended purpose. "We think the judge wrote a careful, thoughtful and correct decision," she said. "We're very pleased that one more step was taken to protect these funds for the use they were intended for originally, which is tobacco control and prevention in Ohio."

Reference: Judge rules Ohio legislators can't use tobacco funds to balance state budget, Posted by Aaron Marshall (Tom Feran contributed to this report), The Cleveland PLain Dealer, 8/11/2009.