ORANGE COUNTY: Bulk of ‘Tobacco Windfall’ Not for Health Programs
The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to use the bulk of the county's $912 million tobacco windfall -- due over the next 25 years -- to pay off huge debts incurred after the 1994 bankruptcy and to expand jail capacity, the Orange County Register reports. But in the face of criticism from health advocates, supervisors did concede to delay their final decision on how much tobacco money it should allocate to "improve care for the county's needy." The delay gives the County Health Agency four months to devise a comprehensive plan for the funding. After rejecting a proposal by County CFO Gary Burton to allocate only $7 million annually to health spending, Chair Charles Smith said, "We need to do more homework on what the needs are." Supervisor Cynthia Coad agreed, suggesting that $7 million should be considered as the minimum annual health allocation. "This gives us the opportunity to make (improved) health care a part of the county's strategic plan," said Sam Roth, spokesperson for the Health Alliance to Reinvest the Tobacco Settlement (Reed, 11/10). Orange County is the only Southern California jurisdiction planning to spend most of its tobacco settlement on non-health-related services, the Los Angeles Times reports. Supervisors contended that the "money should go to what they have long considered their biggest priorities: cutting debt ... and reducing jail overcrowding." They added that early repayment of county debts will save $110 million in interest payments over the next 10 years (11/10). County expenditures on health programs "plunged" 20% after the 1994 bankruptcy, reaching only $32.6 million this year, compared to $40.3 million in 1995 (Orange County Register, 11/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.