VENTURA COUNTY: Fight Over Tobacco Cash Heats Up
Ventura County health director Pierre Durand urged supervisors last week to allocate the county's entire take from the national tobacco settlement over the next two years for health projects, further polarizing the Board of Supervisors over the fate of the money. Under the health agency director's proposal, the county would spend the $12 million "on nine projects and programs, such as constructing new public health buildings, sponsoring disease prevention programs and providing services to the growing uninsured population." Durand told supervisors, "I strongly urge you to have the tobacco settlement go toward health services. The tobacco settlement is a great opportunity for this county to remain a leader in health care." But the Board's chief administrative officer, Lin Koester, wants to split the money between the Ventura County Medical Center and the county general fund. Koester stressed that the money would be helpful in balancing the budget. Koester has an ally in Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Lacey, who "said she wants to give other department managers a chance to make their case for a portion of the money before making a final decision." Lacey said, "It sounds like all the money should go to health care, but that's not how I read it. The board is going to have a full-blown philosophical discussion about this." In his corner, Durand has supervisors Judy Mikels and John Flynn, who want to spend the money on anti-smoking programs and the treatment of sick smokers. Mikels said, "The only ethical way to use that money is to beef up the health care system. Dealing with smoking-related illnesses was the basis of the lawsuit. It would be unethical to take the money and start filling potholes. If we put it in the general fund it just gets lapped up. The general fund is like the black hole. ... It needs to go toward health related services, and that's the way I've felt about it since the day the settlement happened" (Johnson, Los Angeles Times, 7/6).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.