TOBACCO ROUNDUP: County Supervisors, Interest Groups Wrangle Over Tobacco Settlement Windfall
As California's counties prepare to receive portions of the tobacco settlement, elected officials, voters and advocacy groups weigh in on the distribution process.
- Orange County: Under a proposal likely to appear on the November ballot, 80% of the county's estimated $765 million tobacco settlement -- $30 million over 25 years -- would be earmarked for antismoking campaigns and health care (Warren, Los Angeles Times, 6/6). A coalition of health care advocates, including doctors, hospitals, senior citizens and community clinics, have submitted more than 115,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. Meanwhile, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has endorsed a plan that would split the settlement, with 50% going toward health-related programs and services and the remainder divided between prison expansion and debt reduction (Warren, Los Angles Times, 6/2). According to a poll of 750 voters, county residents on the whole do not feel strongly either way -- 56% of the 350 surveyed voters are in favor of the 80/20 split, while 59% of a different sample of 350 voters are in favor of the board's 50/50 proposal (Los Angeles Times, 6/6). To ensure that county residents are allowed to decide how to spend the windfall, state Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) introduced legislation Wednesday that would bar county supervisors from committing the funds for other purposes during budget talks this summer (Warren, Los Angeles Times, 6/8).
- Contra Costa County: The Contra Costa County Tobacco Prevention Coalition has asked the board of supervisors to allocate $835,000 of this year's $9 million settlement to antismoking programs. Although the county's health department is facing a fiscal shortfall, advocates argue that such programs will help keep health costs down in the long run (Contra Costa Times, 5/23).
- Merced County: The Mayors Council of Merced County asked supervisors to distribute half of the county's tobacco monies among six cities, based on population. They said their share of the funds would be used for programs related to health, public safety and welfare. The county stands to receive $60 million over 25 years from the settlement (Guerra, Modesto Bee, 5/23).
- Kern County: The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a plan Tuesday that would earmark 36% of this year's $15 million installment from the tobacco settlement for health projects. The board rejected two proposals: one calling for less than the approved amount and another requiring all of the monies to be channeled into medical programs (Bedell, Bakersfield Californian, 6/6).
- San Jose County: San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales has announced that he would like to reserve 25% of the tobacco settlement for antitobacco programs, another 25% for senior programs and spend the remaining 50% on education, the editors of the San Jose Mercury News note. And while Gonzales is "wise to guide the tobacco money into special programs instead of into the city's general fund," the editors contend that a debate on the funds' allocation should still take place. The editors argue that the issue should not be listed on the city council's "consent calendar," which is reserved for issues that are "routine" and do not require a public discussion. With some $250 million over 25 years hanging in the balance, the editors urge council members to treat Gonzales' proposals as "the ground rules for budget discussions" (5/30).