TOBACCO SETTLEMENT: Advocates Urge Davis to Spend Funds on Health
According to an editorial in Monday's San Diego Union-Tribune, California's and other states' litigation against the tobacco industry "was just a smoke screen" to generate new revenue and the "big, bad tobacco industry was a convenient, deep-pocket target." Although some states have earmarked some of the tobacco funds for health care costs borne over the years for "treating patients afflicted with smoking related illness," most plan to use some or all of the money for purposes "that have nothing whatsoever to do with health care." Lawmakers in California passed legislation this year that would have earmarked $12.5 billion -- half of the state's expected $25 billion -- to health care. But Gov. Gray Davis (D) vetoed the measure, arguing he needed more "flexibility" with the money in the event of a statewide recession, the editors write. As a result, "irate health groups" are gathering signatures for the next election cycle for a ballot initiative that would "effectively override the governor's veto." The editors conclude that, like "an animal that has tasted blood for the first time, the states now have an apparently insatiable appetite for multi-billion legal settlements ... and [a] lust for windfall revenue" (11/29).
Orange County Cash Up in Smoke?
Continuing to argue on behalf of health care interests, members of Orange County's health care coalition say they will put up a fight if county supervisors don't modify their unanimous decision to spend about 80% of the county's share of national tobacco settlements on jail construction and county debt, the Los Angeles Times reports. Valerie Peters, communications director of the American Lung Association of Orange County, said, "We want this money to go for health care, and we are going to fight for that. We do understand about the debt and the needs of the county, but the bottom line is, this is the tobacco settlement for health and tobacco related issues." Orange County is expected to receive a minimum of $30 million to $35 million a year for the next 25 years under the national tobacco settlement. Under the county's plan, it will spend roughly $7 million a year on health care. The remaining monies would go toward the bankruptcy debt as well as building a county jail, using the tobacco fund as security against the principle of the loans. Orange County Board of Supervisors Chair Chuck Smith said that he remains "flexible" about how to divide the tobacco funds; however, he argued that "crime and debt service are the top issues" with county residents. Smith added, "We need to do some planning and figure how we can jointly solve the problem, but we are not going to take the tobacco money and just throw it at the problem and hope it does some good" (Warren, 11/28).