Rival Tobacco-Settlement Plan Proposed
Orange County Treasurer John M.W. Moorlach proposed a new measure Tuesday that calls for a higher percentage of money from the national tobacco settlement to pay down the county's bankruptcy debt than proposed in Measure H, a ballot initiative proposed by
Under Moorlach's plan, 40% of the county's $30-million-a-year share of the settlement fund would be used to pay debt obligation. Of the remaining money, Moorlach proposed spending 42% on health care and giving 18% to the sheriff's office for public safety programs, including jails.
Measure H, if approved by voters in November, would allocate 80% for health care and 20% for debt reduction, according to a spokeswoman for health care officials.
"Orange County's voters deserve alternatives to the use of tobacco funds," Moorlach said. He introduced the plan at the end of the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting, during public comments.
"It's incumbent on us not to let this opportunity to reduce our debt slip away."
Moorlach said he will ask the board to place his measure on the November ballot at its next meeting, Tuesday.
Moorlach's plan was criticized by health care officials who have negotiated for more than a year with members of the board on use of tobacco funds.
"What political grandstanding," said Michele Revelle, a spokeswoman for the health groups. "If he was this concerned about it, why didn't he enter and help in the negotiations a long time ago?"
Negotiations broke off between county and health officials two months ago when supervisors voted 3 to 2 against a compromise to divide the windfall.
Under that plan, 60% would have been used for health care and anti-smoking programs and the remaining 40% for jail construction and debt reduction.
A day later, health care advocates filed 117,000 signatures for the measure to let voters decide how the county should spend an estimated $763 million in national tobacco settlement funds over the next 2 1/2 decades.
Measure H is backed by a coalition of doctor, hospital and community groups, community clinics and a majority of the county's elected representatives in Sacramento and Washington.
The board filed suit last week, on a 3-2 vote, to block the health care initiative, contending that Measure H violates both state law and the state constitution by limiting how the board, the county's elected body, spends county funds. The week before, supervisors placed the health care plan on the ballot, which it was legally required to do.
"The biggest issue here is that after voting to put our initiative on the ballot because they had to legally, the board turned around and sued us," Revelle said. "Now they're going to put their own [ballot measure] on?"
On Tuesday, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who voted against the lawsuit, said Moorlach's proposal also would tie future boards to a spending formula they did not vote on, which could be construed as unconstitutional.
The Measure H suit will be heard Aug. 30 in Orange County Superior Court.
A third formula for use of tobacco funds, still in the planning stages, has been proposed by former Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle and the Orange County Deputy Sheriff's Assn. It calls for spending 25% of the funds on health care, 25% on jail expansion and 50% to retire county bankruptcy debt.