Orange County Supervisors Skirt Tobacco Fund Plans
The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Monday voted to reconsider how to spend this year's portion of the county's tobacco settlement, the Los Angeles Times reports. The decision comes less than two weeks after 65% of voters approved Measure H, the ballot initiative that would allocate 80% of the county's tobacco settlement funds to health services. The board decided to "consider" a plan that would spend half of the tobacco funds on health care and the other half on paying down the county's debt. Because Measure H does not take effect until July, Board Chair Chuck Smith said it "was time to consider spending as much as possible now on debt reduction." Smith said that Measure H's approval "prompted" him to revisit an earlier "promise" to split the tobacco money for the next fiscal year in half, with $14.2 million going toward health care and another $14.2 million allocated to paying off the county's debt and purchasing new jail beds. However, the supervisors might choose to reduce funding for health care to less than half of the funds, Smith said. "I'm not saying how much we should spend toward debt reduction. We could make it 80%, the same amount (health care advocates) want to spend on health. But we need to fully look at this." Smith has won the support of fellow supervisor Cynthia Coad, who was "put off" by the "vague definition of 'health care'," which could be "easily stretched to include housing conditions or even ocean water quality." The supervisors scheduled a closed-door meeting today to examine whether or not to mount a legal challenge to Measure H, but Supervisor Todd Spitzer seemed certain of the outcome. "[T]here's no doubt in my mind that (a board majority) will vote to challenge it in court," he said. Following today's session, supervisors will renew the debate over the settlement funds at their Dec. 5 meeting.
Health care advocates were left "stunned," "angered" and "surprised" by the supervisors' actions. "They just don't want to listen to the will of the people. ... They voted to give us 50% earlier and we didn't like it then, and now it looks like they're going to renege on it," Michele Revelle, a spokesperson for the Orange County Medical Association, said. Felix Schwarz, executive director of the Health Care Council of Orange County, said that through their new proposal, the county supervisors are "trying to 'rip off' money that should be going to health care." Health advocates, including doctors, clinic operators and hospital administrators, who originally staged a $1 million campaign to pass Measure H, now fear they may have to raise even more money to defend it. "The supervisors should believe it's time to rebuild the relationship with the health care community because we need to start working with them and they need to start working with us," Revelle said (Reyes, Los Angeles Times, 11/21).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.