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DANA PARSONS

Health Care Funding Didn't Have a Prayer

November 22, 2000|DANA PARSONS

Orange County Supervisor Tom Wilson led the room in prayer. He thanked God for our Thanksgiving bounty and ended by reminding us it's our duty to do whatever we can for the less fortunate.

An hour later, he and his fellow board members voted to accept bids for valet parking at John Wayne Airport.

Blessed are the frequent fliers, for they shall inherit the Earth.

There wasn't a dry eye in the house after the vote.

Seldom do we see such a direct and prompt correlation between spiritual intent and public policy.

The board wasn't done.

No doubt infused with Wilson's beneficence, the board later went into executive session to take up the issue of whether to challenge Measure H in court and, presumably, divert money from health care to debt reduction.

Surely, with Wilson's prayer ringing in their ears, they wouldn't do such a thing.

Alas, when they emerged in the late afternoon Tuesday, the board majority led by Chairman Chuck Smith had done just that, voting 3 to 2 to challenge.

On Nov. 7, Orange County voters overwhelmingly passed Measure H (almost 2 to 1) as a way to tell the board how to spend millions a year in tobacco-settlement money. The voters opted to spend about 80% on health-related concerns, which they contended had been neglected for too long.

That was twice as much concern as Smith had in mind. He supported the defeated Measure G, which would have spent as much on reducing the county's bankruptcy debt as on health-related items.

Given the vote on election day, you'd think the board majority of Smith, Cynthia Coad and Jim Silva might yield.

You might also think they believe in the rights of turkeys to live in peace at Thanksgiving.

Valet Parking? Done!

Indeed, even before leading his charges behind closed doors on Tuesday, Smith had signaled his disdain for the public's voting habits.

On Monday, he led Coad and Silva through their paces and said he's rethinking a pre-election arrangement with supporters of Measure H, in which the board had agreed to divide evenly this year's tobacco windfall, estimated at $28 million, between health-related items and debt reduction and other items.

Not so fast, Smith now says.

Realizing that the board's hands may be tied in future years when Measure H kicks in, the chairman no longer wants to be bound by the 50-50 agreement this year.

Smith even tossed a figure of 80% to be spent on debt reduction. Hey, what a coincidence--that's the amount the Measure H would spend on health.

If Smith is serious about the 80%, it smacks of a Bronx cheer to the county's health-care community.

Oh well, let's not inject negativity in this season of thanksgiving. Let's get back to the vote on the airport valet service.

As unsure as it is about health care, the board majority is certain about helping air travelers.

Smith, Silva and Coad joined Wilson from the get-go in agreeing to take bids on a plan to see if the county can make money from departing passengers needing valet parking at John Wayne.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer was the only one who demurred, wondering what evidence there was that travelers wanted such a thing. And, he asked, will they pay a premium price for valet service if it means their car still will be parked outdoors while they're gone?

Airport director Alan Murphy said a survey of 12 other airports with valet service suggests the idea will fly and that outdoor parking shouldn't be a problem.

Spitzer persuaded his fellow supervisors to reduce the maiden contract from three years to one, because as he said of the venture, "We may make money, we may not."

But even Spitzer's initial skepticism eventually gave way to wanting to help the needy air traveler, and he made the vote 5 to 0.

All in all, it was a full day of deciding what to do about the less fortunate.

Yes, blessed are the air travelers.

Not so blessed, it seems, are those in need of health services.

*

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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