Most Residents Oppose Using Tobacco Windfall to Pay Debt
By a comfortable 10% margin, county residents favor spending most of the $30 million expected from tobacco settlement funds on health care rather than doling part of it out to pay down the county's lingering bankruptcy debt, according to a poll released T
The poll, conducted by Cal State Fullerton's Center for Public Policy, found 50% of the likely voters preferred Measure H, which would steer 80% of the tobacco money toward health care over the next two decades.
By contrast, a little more than 40% of those surveyed said they'd support Measure G, a rival initiative that would direct 40% of the settlement funds to the bankruptcy debt. Only 7% of those polled were undecided while 2% declined to answer.
On statewide measures, the school voucher initiative--Proposition 38--trailed 52% to 40%, a decisive edge but still slightly closer that the statewide gap revealed Wednesday in a Los Angeles Times poll.
The poll showed voters are far less familiar with Prop. 39, which would make approval of local school bond measures easier by lowering the vote required for passage to 55% from two-thirds. Still, the survey showed it trailing among Orange County voters by 48% to 37%, with 15% undecided.
Prop. 36, which would allow treatment instead of jail time for first-time drug offenders, was favored by a 73% to 17% margin. Respondents would vote no on Prop. 34, the campaign finance ballot measure, by a 73% to 25% margin.
Overall, the results cheered Measure H campaign supporters who have reported raising $791,747 so far and are planning to step up the campaign with television ads and mailers.
"I'm very pleased because we haven't started our direct voter contact yet and that includes telephone calling, TV and mailers," said Michele Revelle, Orange County Medical Assn. executive director.
Frank Caterinicchio, campaign manager for Measure G, said he doubted the poll's accuracy. He said those being polled should have been asked questions about the measure using wording just as it appears on the ballot.
"As a campaign manager I couldn't run a campaign on that data," Caterinicchio said. "But we're pleased the poll is showing there's 40% in favor of Measure G."
Caterinicchio said he wanted to know more about who was polled and whether respondents represented an accurate Democrat-Republican mix for the county. "My concern is that the accuracy is questionable because they didn't do it in a professional way," he said.
The poll, a joint undertaking by Cal State Fullerton and the Orange County Business Council, surveyed 544 people between Oct. 2 and 18.
John Chamberlain of the Orange County Taxpayers Assn., which has endorsed Measure G, said he was pleasantly surprised at the results but that he had expected an even wider margin given the financial disparity between the two campaigns.
The campaign coffers for Measure H, which is supported by doctors, hospitals, clinics and many elected officials, has dwarfed that of Measure G, for which $12,510 has been raised and roughly $25,000 spent. Among the contributors to Measure G were Friends of Curt Pringle, PAC of Orange County Sheriffs, and Jim Silva for Supervisor.
"I frankly think the [poll] results show it's closer than I thought it would be at this time," Chamberlain said. "It could mean that more people are moving toward Measure G."
Measure H was approved for the ballot on July 21, after supporters gathered 115,000 signatures, far more than the 71,000 required. At the time, county supervisors and health care experts were locked in debate on how to spend the tobacco money.
Meanwhile, county Treasurer-Tax Collector John M.W. Moorlach drafted Measure G as an alternative to offer funds to pay for health care costs and also help pay down the county's remaining $950-million bankruptcy debt.
The Board of Supervisors approved Moorlach's measure on Aug. 8, nearly three weeks later.
"What's occurred is people are getting a grasp of what this Measure G means in opposition to Measure H," Chamberlain said.
Interestingly, when those surveyed were given the details of Measure G, such as setting an oversight committee to monitor allocations, 33% said that made them "much more likely" to vote for G, said Keith Boyum, director for the Center for Public Policy.
Yet, when voters were told that Measure H was put on the ballot by citizen petition in contrast to Measure G, some 40% said that made them "much more likely" to vote for H, Boyum said.
"Skepticism of government shows plainly in these numbers," Boyum said, adding that an oversight committee suggests accountability and is a "high voter priority."
Both sides worry whether voters will be motivated enough to understand the complex initiatives on election day. Nearly two-thirds of those polled said they had neither heard nor read about the tobacco settlement.
"It's our challenge," said Revelle, "to keep people motivated enough to vote for our measure."