VENTURA COUNTY: Report Slams Community Memorial Tobacco Initiative
The debate over how to spend Ventura County's tobacco settlement heated up yesterday, as the county's Counsel and Chief Administrative offices issued a "blistering" report criticizing a ballot initiative sponsored by Community Memorial Hospital to allocate the bulk of settlement funds to the county's private hospitals -- barring public health facilities from sharing the windfall. The report will be presented today to the county Board of Supervisors, which will vote on whether to include the initiative on the November ballot. The 29-page document challenges the legality of the proposal, arguing that it "interferes with the legislative responsibilities of supervisors to make budget decisions." The report also opposes removing public money from public facilities and giving it entirely to private entities. The report warned that if the initiative is adopted, it will be "the death knell for local government in California," and "there would be nothing to stop any number of other special interests from doing the same thing." But if the board rejects adding the proposal to the ballot, it will likely have a lawsuit on its hands, alleging the county is "thwarting residents' right to vote" (Koehler, Ventura County Star, 6/20). Some supervisors, however, say they are willing to take on a court challenge. Board Chair Kathy Long said, "I'd frankly like to just fight it, and say let's go to court. But the concern is, are we taking away the voters' rights?" The county is set to receive some $260 million over the next 25 years (Talev, Los Angeles Times, 6/20).
In other tobacco news, a initiative to allocate 80% of Orange County's tobacco settlement towards health care and antismoking programs will appear on the November ballot. The announcement was made last week, as Registrar of Voters Rosalyn Lever certified that the Taxpayers for Reduced Healthcare Costs had filed 115,000 signatures. Only 71,206 signatures were required to place the measure on the ballot. Orange County is slated to receive $765 million over the next 25 years (Warren, Los Angeles Times, 6/15).