Health Alliance may get funds |

Health Alliance may get funds

Emily Aughinbaugh, Tribune staff writer

PLACERVILLE – El Dorado County health officials may still have hope of seeing all $47 million of Master Tobacco Settlement money.

Senate Bill 673, proposed by State Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Los Angeles, passed through Assembly Appropriations Committee Thursday.

The bill states that county funds distributed from the tobacco settlement cannot be used for support of county services that are unrelated to reducing tobacco consumption or to diminishing the public costs of tobacco-related diseases.

John Miller, staff director of the Senate Health Committee, said he is optimistic the bill will pass when it goes to the Assembly floor in a few days.

“It’s going to be a fiercely contested issue,” Miller said. “But I believe it will make it through.”

If the bill passes, the Board of Supervisors need to find a new funding source for a $39 million justice center on the West Slope. In July the board earmarked the tobacco funds for the new construction with any leftovers going to health care.

Supervisor Ray Nutting said the board shouldn’t decide the tobacco money’s fate in the county until SB 673 goes to the assembly floor.

“I think it would be pretty foolish to spend those revenues with this cloud hanging over this issue,” Supervisor Ray Nutting said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Nutting said he was disappointed with the way the state has handled the allocation of the tobacco money from the beginning.

“It’s typical government bureaucracy,” he said. “Make the law vague and then go back and try to clarify it. They would have saved the people a lot of time and trouble if they would have just made it clear in the beginning.”

Nutting said he doesn’t think the bill, whether it passes or not, will change the board’s recent decision to sue the Health Alliance.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board voted 4-1, with Nutting dissenting, to proceed with litigation to stop an initiative by the Health Alliance setting the money aside for health care.

“The lawsuit I think will fail on its own measure,” Nutting said. “(The Health Alliance) initiative does not tie the Board of Supervisors’ hands with its budget.”

The board’s decision comes on the heels of another lawsuit the county filed two weeks ago against the Builders’ Exchange and Measure H, which requests 50 percent of Vehicle License Fees go to county road maintenance.

County Counsel Louis Green said because the board voted to place the Health Alliance’s initiative on the March 2002 ballot, there wasn’t as much urgency to file litigation against the health measure as there was with Measure H, which will be voted on in November.

“There’s not quite the same time pressure to run in today and get it filed,” Green said. “But we will look at moving forward with it expeditiously.”

Nutting said the board felt litigation was necessary because it feared these initiatives would prohibit the board from appropriately conducting the fiscal management of the county. The lawsuit filed against Measure H says initiatives that request some portion of the general fund are invalid under the State Budget Act, because “the state legislature has delegated budgetary authority exclusively to the Board of Supervisors.”

Green said the lawsuit mentions the Health Alliance initiative as an example that Measure H is not the only measure of its kind.

Linda George, a representative of Marshall Hospital and Health Alliance member, said she hopes the public does not believe the board’s claim that the Alliance initiative resembles Measure H.

“The bottom line is while the Board of Supervisors are choosing to put the Alliance’s initiative into the same pot with the Builders’ initiative they are really two completely different measures,” George said. “There’s a big difference between reallocating existing funding, which is what Measure H proposes to do and targeting new funding, which is what (the Health Alliance) proposed.

“The (board’s) idea to kill two initiatives with one stone really isn’t legitimate,” she added. “So it’s up to (the Health Alliance) to educate the voters.”

P.J. LoDuca, head of the Health Alliance, said the board denied the public its say in how the tobacco money is spent since the county received its first payment in May amounting to a little more than $1 million.

LoDuca said the board ignored the standing-room only crowd that spoke in favor of the Health Alliance’s initiative in July and did so again Tuesday when just a few people reiterated the need for the tobacco money to fund health care programs.

“People have come to you personally to share with you how the gaps in the health care system affect them,” LoDuca said to the board at Tuesday’s meeting, asking them to become active in the community to realize its health care needs.

George spoke to the board as well, emphasizing her displeasure with the supervisors’ unwillingness to work with the Alliance.

“What concerns me is while we were acting in good faith, you were going to county counsel to file a lawsuit to strike down our initiative,” George said to the board.

In July, the board voted to defer the Alliance’s initiative for 30 days to study its impacts, which caused the initiative to miss the Aug. 11 deadline to be placed on the November ballot. The board then asked for an accounting by the Health Alliance on how it would spend 25 percent of tobacco money over an 18-month period.

The Alliance stated the majority would go to opening a new clinic on the West Slope with the rest funding an existing clinic in South Lake Tahoe. Supervisor Dave Solaro expressed concern with the proposal saying he didn’t want the South Shore to be cheated out of its fair share.

LoDuca said the numbers provided by the county were vague and the distribution might change depending on the final amounts.

So the board passed a motion to place the Alliance’s initiative on the March 2002 ballot and asked Health Department Director Gayle Erbe-Hamlin to provide more refined numbers to the board indicating the exact stream of payments expected during the next 18 months.

Erbe-Hamlin said she expects to have the figures finished by October.

While the county awaits the figures and pursues its lawsuit, LoDuca said the Alliance will hold its ground and continue to educate the public and the board on the health community’s needs for the tobacco money.

The tobacco money is anticipated funds that are the result of a 46-state lawsuit brought against major tobacco companies two years ago. The tobacco companies were forced to pay $206 billion through 2025 to compensate for costs states incurred from providing medical care related to tobacco usage. The settlement did not stipulate how the money should be spent or into what county account it should be placed.

Breakout Box

The El Dorado County Health Alliance initiative requests that funds received from tobacco settlement litigation for the first four years be placed into a special interest-bearing account to provide a revenue stream for health and tobacco-control related programs.

The initiative sets out 85 percent of the funds for health-related programs and 15 percent for the control of tobacco use.

A minimum of 10 percent of the revenues received after year six shall be designated for health-related expenditures.

Bk out:

Who is the El Dorado County Health Alliance?

n Marshall Hospital

n Barton Memorial Hospital

n El Dorado Roundtable of Human Rights

n Community Health Library

n Snowline Hospice

n Elder Options

n Sacramento-El Dorado Medical Society

n League of Women Voters

n El Dorado County Tobacco Prevention Coalition

n Hospital Council of Northern and Central California

n Better Breathers Club

n Health Depot

n Various other county doctors, pharmacies, educators, law enforcement agencies and concerned citizens

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