ORANGE COUNTY: County Faces Loss of Tobacco Settlement Funds
Two major physician organizations announced Wednesday plans to circulate petitions across California, requiring that $25 billion from the tobacco settlement monies be used on health care. One of the proposals limits state spending of the tobacco cash over a 25-year period; the second limits spending at both the state and county levels. The latter of the initiatives is designed to target Orange County -- the state's only major county planning to use the money on projects unrelated to health care. Orange County supervisors currently plan to spend 80% of the expected $912 million, obtained over the next 25 years, on jail construction and repayment of debt. Both sides, including State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) and Orange County Board of Supervisors Chair Chuck Smith plan to meet today and discuss a potential compromise. Dunn has already said that if the county "strikes a deal" with local health care officials, "the sponsors would drop the local proposal," but at the same time he warns that "without compromise 'the county runs the risk of losing control of 100%" of the tobacco settlement.
The Bigger Picture
The conflict over Orange County is only a part of the push by health officials for more spending on public health. Supporters of the initiatives also hope to force Gov. Gray Davis (D) into spending more of the tobacco money -- expected to reach $25 billion through 2025 -- on health care, after he vetoed AB 100 which required that the state spend at least $12.5 billion on expanding health services. A spokesperson for the governor said that Davis "led the charge" in getting involved in the tobacco lawsuits and notes that the state "already spends more than $500 million ... on tobacco-related anti-smoking education and health programs," but lobbyists are not satisfied, claiming that it is not enough. Although a number of groups that favored AB 100 have yet to endorse the two proposals, veteran lobbyist John Hein believes the proposals "absolutely will work as leverage." Backers of the two statewide initiatives include the California Medical Association, the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, the California School Nurses Organization and the AARP (Warren, Los Angeles Times, 12/2).