Budget & Tax , Health Care
Trent England | September 26, 2017
TSET: Don't smoke, get drunk!
Why does a state agency award grants for “alcohol use prevention” while promoting bars and nightclubs? As OCPA’s Center for Investigative Journalism reported this morning, Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) does this through a program it created and funds called Free The Night.
TSET, created in the Oklahoma Constitution in 2000, is insulated from control by voters or legislators. Its mandates include “research and treatment [of] cancer and other tobacco-related diseases” and “tobacco prevention and cessation programs,” but also catchalls like “Programs … designed to maintain or improve the health of Oklahomans” and “Programs and services for the benefit of the children of Oklahoma.” Its bank account has grown to over $1.1 billion.
TSET attracts media attention and prods local public policy by giving money to Oklahoma cities and counties. Among the criteria provided by TSET for previous grant awards is “alcohol use prevention.” (Current criteria, which include 10 references to “alcohol” or “drinking,” are here.)
A few years ago, TSET hired a California consulting firm that labels itself “the behavior change agency,” to create Free The Night. In its first two years, TSET spent $653,150 on the program “supporting smokefree bars and clubs.” Here are just a few quotes from TSET’s Free The Night website.
- Boosting a Tulsa bar: “Don’t forget about happy hour … you can buy a shot and get a free domestic beer.”
- About an Oklahoma City club, TSET encourages Oklahomans to enjoy“both cold and hot cocktails” and “friendly female staff.”
- TSET promotes a Tulsa club that “specializes in vodkas (boasting the largest selection in Oklahoma!) and house-made drink infusions – but also offers a wide range of beer and wine.”
Beyond the hypocrisy of spending state dollars to promote shots, cocktails, and vodka infusions, consider what else those funds could buy. The state share of nursing home costs is $51.45 per day. That means TSET’s Free The Night spending could have covered the state’s share of 12,694 days of nursing home care.
Many Oklahomans are still struggling with the results of collapsed oil prices. Over the last decade, the national recession and then our local recession have caused families and businesses to make hard choices, to cut costs, to do more with less. At the same time, the growth of state government has slowed and some have insisted the only answer is higher taxes. There is simply nothing left, they tell us, to cut and reallocate money to higher priorities.
With government spending at an all-time high, and examples like TSET, Oklahomans are right to push back. Money-saving reforms abound, along with other ways to balance the books without damaging tax hikes.
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.