In a symbolic gesture, the state's chief law enforcement officer Thursday handed over a check for $79 million to Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky as the first payment of the county's share of a massive $206-billion settlement paid by the tobacco industry to California and 45 other states.
Actually, the county got the money last week. But state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer handed over a copy of the check for $79,288,741.37 in front of reporters to Yaroslavsky, who said the money would be spent on the county's health needs, a decision made by the Board of Supervisors.
"It's not to build roads or to trim trees," the supervisor said. "It's . . . to improve the quality of health [in Los Angeles County]."
Overall, the county may eventually get more than $3 billion from the settlement.
Yaroslavsky said the board will decide during its annual budget deliberations in April exactly how the money will be spent. The county's budget for health care totals an estimated $2 billion a year, he said.
Because of its size and health needs, the county gets the lion's share of the estimated $1 billion the tobacco industry has agreed to pay California annually for 25 years as a settlement of smoking liability lawsuits filed against it.
Lockyer pointed out that the county was among the first governments in California to sue the tobacco industry for deceitful and illegal marketing practices.
Several cities are also entitled to funds under the settlement, with Los Angeles expected to receive an estimated $312 million.