TOBACCO FUNDS: Davis Aims to Derail Health Initiative
Gov. Gray Davis (D) is "waging an intense behind-the-scenes effort" to pressure a physicians group to abandon its campaign calling for the state to spend all of its $500 million share of the national tobacco settlement on health care programs, the Orange County Register reports. This fall, Davis vetoed a bill that would have required the state to spend all funds on health care related programs, arguing that the state needed "budgeting flexibility." A new measure was drafted by the state chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians with the support of the California Medical Association. Dr. Daniel Abbott, president of the emergency physicians group, said, "The governor is clearly putting pressure on us." Davis, however, has proposed spending an additional $55 million in emergency services, which has "given the medical group second thoughts" (Reed, 1/21).
In a column in today's San Diego Union-Tribune, Bill Ainsworth writes that as Calif. lieutenant governor, Davis was a "strong advocate" of suing big tobacco to recover the cost of treating smoking-related illness, but is now in a "behind the scene fight over how to spend the windfall." While running for governor, Ainsworth contends that Davis "chastised his Republican gubernatorial opponent, then-Attorney General Dan Lungren, for delaying California's lawsuit against the tobacco companies," but now Davis appears to be wavering on the issue. Ainsworth writes that the California Medical Association's ballot measure, in which the group contends that the tobacco funds should be spent only on health programs, is "trying to determine whether to mount a frontal assault against Davis, a man who may be at the height of his power and popularity." Even if voters approve the ballot measure, Ainsworth contends that Davis could retaliate by reducing health care spending in other areas. Ainsworth notes that many advocates think using the ballot measure as a form of "extract[ing] as much money from Davis as possible," may be the "best course." Ainsworth concludes: "That his former allies in the tobacco suit would have to resort to such tactics makes it clear that Davis is indeed a new kind of Democrat -- the stingy kind" (1/24).