County To Voters: "Thanks for Sharing"

'Supes' Soviet-style budget includes millions for millionaires

Not everybody is so quick to play dumb. "You have to question whether it is appropriate for county tax dollars to be funding a business group with major political agendas," said Reavis, who last year was rudely tossed out of a hotel conference room by Business Council members who did not want her to hear Mittermeier's presentation to their organization. In a Feb. 23 financial-planning memo, Mittermeier revealed her view on who government should benefit. Of 32 "big rocks"--including jails, courts, welfare, health care and debt retirement--she highlighted the importance of only one program: $3 million in additional corporate welfare to the Business Council. This spending, she wrote, could be accomplished "without impact to other major strategic priorities." She was so determined to throw taxpayer dollars to the Business Council that she cleverly included that funding in five of the six funding scenarios. Ironically, at a March 3 board meeting, Mittermeier admitted--albeit in gobbledygook fashion--that she has no clue exactly how the Business Council will spend the gift. "I think if the board chooses to move in that direction, we would propose a strategy plan be developed toward the most appropriate use of those funds," she said.

At the hearing, Felix Schwartz, executive director of the Orange County Health Care Council, pleaded with the supervisors not to turn their backs on citizens who don't have lobbyists. Orange County spending on health care is the lowest amount per capita of any urban county in California, he said. Since 1994, Schwartz added, supervisors have chopped the county's contribution to the social-services budget by $13.5 million.

"There are thousands of people who work but barely make enough money for food, housing and shelter. Any time there is an illness in that person's family, the apple cart is upset. If we are going to remain a humane, civilized society, there has to be a safety net in this county for those people," said Schwartz.Only Steiner appeared troubled. To no avail, he mentioned "soul searching" to his colleagues. They only wanted to talk about building more jails, a much-needed new South County Courthouse, debt retirement and handing the Business Council money. No one questioned Mittermeier's plan to spend $3.3 million on "employee relations" during the next 10 years--including $165,000 for consultants, $80,000 per year for "certificiates of appreciation," more than $300,000 per year on "New World of Work" videos and training, $5,000 for club memberships, and $39,000 per year for a monthly employees newsletter.

In January, Spitzer secured valuable conservative political points for vociferously demanding draconian welfare restrictions on the county's working poor. Three months later, he had nothing bad to say about handing rich white men $3 million. Temporarily setting aside his role as Mittermeier's chief nemesis, Spitzer played bubbly. "Madam CEO," he said, "you should be very proud of the hard work of your staff."

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