Measure H Legality Questioned
Orange County's Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom is seeking a legal opinion on the constitutionality of
Measure H, the voter-approved ballot initiative that would spend 80% of the county's tobacco settlement funds on health care and antismoking programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. The initiative was supported by 65% of voters Tuesday. However, Sundstrom expressed doubts that Measure H has the authority to direct "where and how" how the funds can be spent. Sundstrom said, "This has everything to do with staying within the law and meeting the will of the people. I want to do both." Sundstrom said that County Counsel Laurence Watson "shares his worry" about the initiative and is considering conducting "legal research" on the issue. In this year's election, Measure H competed for votes against rival initiative
Measure G, which was proposed by the county's Board of Supervisors and would have allocated 42% of the settlement funds to health care and 40% to pay down the county's bankruptcy debt. Sundstrom and Watson face opposition from various officials, including state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) and County Supervisor Todd Spitzer. Spitzer said that the county counsel would commit a "serious injustice" by pursuing action against the initiative and stated his intention of hiring an attorney to help defend Measure H and sue Watson if the initiative is challenged. Michelle Revelle, executive director of the Orange County Medical Association, agreed with Spitzer, saying, "We think it would be a huge mistake if they pursue any litigation. A clear majority of the voters said that this is (what) the money should be used for and the board and other county officials shouldn't circumvent the will of the voters." Dunn added, "The constitutional difference here is that the people put Measure H on the ballot" (Reyes, Los Angeles Times, 11/9).
Noting that most elections are won by the candidate with the most money, a
Ventura County Star editorial applauds Ventura County voters for "refusing to be fooled by Community Memorial Hospital's $2 million-plus bid to hijack the county's $261 million tobacco lawsuit settlement" when they voted down
Measure O. The editorial approvingly notes that Measure O garnered less than one-third of the vote in Tuesday's election, despite the fact that its
supporters "vastly outspent[t]" its opponents. In addition, the editorial welcomed the Ventura County Board of Supervisors' "11th-hour"
alternative to Measure O that would allocate $10 million a year in tobacco funds to a variety of health programs, such as antismoking campaigns, mental health and dental services and disease prevention programs. Noting that "inflexibility" was one of Measure O's "major flaws," the editorial asserts that the "rapid pace of change in the health care field" makes it "absurd to lock in any particular spending formula for the entire 25 years over which the settlement money will be distributed." The editorial notes that the supervisors' plan allocates nearly 25% of the tobacco money to private hospitals, an "appropriate" amount, given that private hospitals "bear some of the burden of indigent care." The editorial also approves of the supervisors' proposal that the hospitals sign a contract ensuring that the money "will be spent as intended." In addition, the editorial finds it "reassuring" that the ordinance calls for the establishment of annually renewable oversight panels to supervise spending the settlement. Such panels "offer a good opportunity for the private and public sectors to cooperate in devising a sensible health care plan for the county," the editorial maintains (Ventura County Star, 11/9).