California health groups ready tobacco initiative
SANTA ANA, Calif., Feb 23 (Reuters) - A coalition of Orange County, Calif., health groups is planning an initiative requiring the county to spend on health care most of the $900 million it expects to receive from the national tobacco settlement.
The groups, which include hospital and physician groups as well as the American Association of Retired Persons, oppose Orange County's plans to use the majority of the windfall to reduce debt and build new jails.
``The initiative would make them spend the lion's share of the money on health care,'' Michele Revelle, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Medical Association, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Organizers will announce details of the initiative Thursday and are seeking to get it on the November ballot, Revelle said.
Orange County officials were not immediately available for comment.
California received in December a $315 million check as the first installment of its estimated $1 billion a year payout from the 25-year settlement reached in November 1998 between the tobacco industry and 46 states.
The state government is slated to receive 50 percent of that payout, with counties getting 45 percent and Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco sharing the remaining 5 percent.
The local initiative drive comes after a coalition of some of the state's largest medical groups in January shelved a bid to require California to use its share of the tobacco settlement on health care.
Organizers of the statewide initiative said Gov. Gray Davis' budget proposal included enough funding for health-related programs to warrant putting their measure on hold.