Massachusetts' highest court ordered the Legislature on Friday to provide the money needed to put into effect the state's clean-elections law, which offers tax dollars to candidates who agree to limits on both their spending and their fund-raising.

Voters approved the clean-elections law 2-to-1 in 1998, but the Legislature has refused to release the necessary money.

In a 5-2 ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court said Friday that as long as the law remains on the books, the Legislature has a duty under the Massachusetts Constitution to provide the money needed to carry it out.

That means the law will go into effect with the current 2002 election cycle, which will include a governor's race.

"I'm on Cloud 9," said Warren Tolman, a clean-elections candidate for governor whose campaign was running out of money as he awaited the high court's ruling. "It's a huge victory for us, it's a huge victory for cleaning up the corrupt campaign finances in Massachusetts."

Massachusetts has a clean-elections account containing $23 million. But because of the Legislature's resistance, the money sits untouched.

One of the strongest critics has been Democratic House Speaker Thomas Finneran, who said the state cannot afford public campaign financing.

Republican acting Gov. Jane Swift, who is seeking election in her own right, supports the law and has proposed a state budget that would release the money. However, she does not plan to run as a clean-elections candidate and accept the limits on fund-raising and spending.