RALEIGH, N.C. – In one of their first moves since convening on Jan. 26, North Carolina lawmakers have set their sights on $68 million due the Golden LEAF Foundation for 2011.
Facing a $3.7 billion budget shortfall, the Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to divert to the state’s General Fund the annual settlement payment that otherwise would go to the foundation.
Golden LEAF, created in 1999 to use settlement proceeds from a lawsuit against tobacco companies to advance the economic health of poor and rural counties, has awarded over 1,000 grants totaling more than $477 million over the past decade.
“Golden LEAF was created under a promise to use tobacco-settlement proceeds for the long-term economic advancement of rural, economically distressed and tobacco-dependent counties,” Dan Gerlach, president of the foundation, wrote in the organization’s most recent newsletter. “At a time when our communities are most in need, that promise cannot be broken.”
Senate Bill 13 was filed on Jan. 31, and on Feb. 2 it was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is co-chaired by Richard Stevens, a Republican from Wake County; Peter Brunstetter, a Republican from Forsyth County; and Neal Hunt, a Wake County Republican.
“Other states have used their tobacco settlement funds long ago to patch their budget,” Gerlach says. “Now their money is gone and they face the same issues we face but don’t have access to the assets you currently do through the Golden LEAF Foundation to create jobs and expand economic opportunity.”
Over the last two years, the foundation “has helped create an anticipated 4,300 jobs and over $900 million in capital investments,” Gerlach says.