Voters: Spend Bulk of Tobacco Funds on Health
Voters in Orange County endorse spending at least half of the county's $765-million share of the national tobacco settlement on health care, according to a survey released Monday by the county.
The 750-voter poll, commissioned by the county, also shows that voters rank their top concerns related to county government as law enforcement, beach pollution, roads and transportation, and health care.
The Board of Supervisors is considering a variety of proposals for spending the tobacco windfall, which will be about $30 million annually for the next 25 years. It has endorsed a plan that would spend half of the money on health care and divide the rest between jail expansion and debt reduction.
A health care coalition of hospital officials, doctors and senior citizens has filed a ballot initiative that would allot 80% to health care and anti-smoking programs, with the rest going to law enforcement.
The poll also sought to identify how those two options might fare if each appeared alone on the ballot. To avoid prejudicing the result, the 750-voter sample was split in half, and each group was asked to consider one option.
Fifty-six percent said they would vote "yes" on the 80/20 split, while 59% said they would vote "yes" on the 50/50 plan. The results "are of a similar magnitude given the statistical margin of error," said Arnold Steinberg, who conducted the poll.
More than three-fourths of voters said the county's debt is a significant problem, and two-thirds said there should be flexibility in how the county spends tobacco settlement funds.
Several answers raised questions about the public's confidence in the board. Identical groups of voters, 36.5%, said decisions about spending the tobacco settlement should be made by the Board of Supervisors and a group of county health organizations, hospitals and physicians.
Nearly four-fifths of voters said they thought it would be a "good idea" to have a citizens oversight committee recommend how supervisors should spend the settlement money because the board "needs citizen input." Just 17% thought the supervisors should make the decision because they are "elected to do this job."