With $48 million heading its way next month, Orange County's new Proposition 10 tobacco tax commission is under a time crunch to develop a strategic plan to help children, its chairman said Wednesday after the group's first meeting.
"I think now that the commission is formed, things will begin to happen quickly," said Charles V. Smith, who also is chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.
The commission already has $600,000, but next month the state is expected to dump $48 million more from the tobacco tax into the commission's account. The funds will be kept in an investment portfolio, analogous to a money-market fund, said John M.W. Moorlach, county treasurer-tax collector.
But when the money arrives, no checks can be cut until the commission adopts a plan.
The proposition, which imposes a cigarette tax of 50 cents per pack, calls for spending on childhood development programs from prenatal stages to age 5.
Smith was confident that an overall strategy will be developed quickly. The commission scheduled an Oct. 4 workshop to hear about children's needs.
"Before you start solving problems, you have to know what the problems are," Smith said. "And, once you define the problems, it's pretty simple to come up with a solution." A recent county health assessment, for instance, found that among adult residents, about 335,000 people, or 17%, have no health insurance--and almost 52% of those adults are Latino or Vietnamese.
Additionally, about 90,000 children, or 13% of the county's youth, have no health coverage--and 57% of those teens are Latino, the survey found.
The commission's role is to spend as much as possible on children's needs without creating new bureaucracy.
"My sense is we're trying to get every dollar out on the street," said Michael M. Ruane, the commission's interim director.
During a presentation, Ruane told commissioners that they must submit plans to an appointed state panel that oversees the money. That state commission, whose executive director was appointed in July, has yet to approve any plans that would allow counties to spend their money.
Under a glitch in the initiative, the county commission can spend its money only on developing a plan, not for services. The law allows only the state commission to pay for children's services.
Ruane said county commissions throughout the state are seeking a change in the law that they hope would take effect before the plans are completed.