The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi has received $20 million a year by court order since 2000. The money comes from a massive lawsuit Mississippi settled with tobacco companies in 1997.
Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed the partnership bill, calling it unconstitutional. It would give the private organization the $20 million in tobacco settlement money every year without lawmakers having to re-appropriate it.
"No other state agency receives such a sweetheart deal, and as long as I'm governor they won't," said Barbour.
The governor says he has questions about how the organization spent the $100 million it has already received over the last five years. A coalition of Partnership supporters say the results in curbing smoking, especially among teens, speak for themselves.
"It saves money, it saves lives," said Dr. Vivian Carter, a public health professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. "It's the most cost effective program this state has."
Those supporters rallied at the Capitol until just moments before the governor announced his veto.
"Why can't the governor do what is right to help people? Why can't he do it?" asked Sen. David Jordan.
There aren't 5,000 pairs of shoes here, but that's close to the number of Mississippians that die each year from tobacco illnesses, but Gov. Barbour says the $20 million could be better spent somewhere else than in the Partnership."
"I propose a constitutional and comprehensive program to reduce youth smoking and fight the scourge of illegal drugs," said Barbour.
The settlement money remains tied up as the state Supreme Court considers a lawsuit filed by the governor to give the Legislature control of the $20 million, not letting it go straight to the Partnership.
"I think he needs to dismiss his lawsuit since he asked for appropriation and he got it," said Sandra Shelson, executive director of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. "He asked for oversight and he got it. Then he vetoed exactly what he asked for."
Sen. Jordan says lawmakers will try to override the governor's veto. An override would require two thirds in order to be successful. The body has three days after the veto to bring the issue up for a vote.