Va. gov seeks a review of tobacco panel

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The McAuliffe administration is seeking a financial accounting from a commission that manages a $1 billion endowment created from one-half of Virginia’s share of the master settlement with the nation’s tobacco companies.

The 31-member Virginia Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission was formed in 1999 to support economic development in the state’s tobacco-growing region, which remains economically depressed.

In a letter dated Feb. 20, McAuliffe’s chief of staff said the request is part of a review of state government, including “performance measures” for state agencies. The letter was obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1hoUzTy).

The records sought range from fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2013. They include fund balances, interest earnings and debts, and a list of economic revitalization grants awarded in each year. The latter would include projected returns on investment and jobs created for each project.

The letter also seeks a separate list of any grants or money spent that the review determined was not devoted to economic revitalization or job growth, along with an explanation of why the grant was awarded.

The commission’s performance has been examined in the past, the most recent occurring in September 2011.

That study by the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that some of the $756 million in tobacco settlement money the commission had spent since 2000 for economic development had helped the economically struggling regions of Southside and southwest Virginia. The report, however, found some of the projects the commission funded offered only “marginal” economic impact.

In 2010, former state Finance Secretary John W. Forbes was convicted of defrauding the commission of $4 million by using grant money for personal spending.

Del. Terry G. Kilgore, R-Scott and co-chairman of the tobacco commission, reacted to the letter in stride. He said most of the commission’s money is tied up in securities.

“We’ve lost some - we’ve not been getting as much return in the past two or three years as we had in the early years,” he said.

On the request, Kilgore said, “I don’t know about the intentions. I’m just going to take it on faith that they just want more information.”

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