Hospital Funding Plan Passes

Times Staff Writers

A ballot proposition to pump $168 million per year into Los Angeles County emergency rooms and trauma centers easily surpassed the two-thirds majority needed to pass, according to a majority of returns Tuesday.

But a $250-million bond measure to upgrade cultural facilities fell short of the required two-thirds.

That failed proposal, Measure A, would have provided $250 million for renovations at the county's art and natural history museums, and for construction at a handful of other cultural institutions. The goal was to help the facilities comply with earthquake and fire safety standards.

The hospital proposal, called Measure B, will raise property taxes by 3 cents per square foot, or about $42 for a 1,400-square-foot house. In addition to funding emergency rooms and trauma centers, the money will be used for bioterrorism preparedness.

Measure B supporters said the money is needed to stave off the closing of two public hospitals -- Harbor-UCLA and Olive View-UCLA medical centers -- which were threatened by a looming deficit. Proponents are also hoping to entice hospitals in Pomona, the Antelope Valley and eastern San Gabriel Valley to provide trauma services where none currently exist.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky claimed victory late Tuesday, but acknowledged he hadn't thought several months ago that it had a chance.

"It's an incredible statement by the people of Los Angeles County that health care matters, that trauma and emergency care matter," he said. "It changes the dynamic of the whole Los Angeles County health care debate." As funding from the state has dried up, the number of trauma centers in Los Angeles County has dropped from 22 in 1985 to 13. If additional trauma centers close, people with severe injuries would have to travel farther to get care.

Supporters of Measure B raised about $2 million, mostly from the Service Employees International Union, whose members' jobs would have been in jeopardy if hospitals closed.

The difficulty, supporters said, was getting people to appreciate the scope of the problem. Opponents of Measure B contended that the burden of funding trauma care should rest with the state, not with county taxpayers. They also criticized the plan because it is open-ended, and taxes can be increased each year to keep pace with inflation.

Critics did not mount an advertising campaign, but rather placed their faith in a requirement that the new tax needed approval from two-thirds of voters. That requirement, imposed in 1978 by Proposition 13, has made it difficult to win approval for tax increases.

The passage of the hospital measure will help shape discussions today between county supervisors and a top federal health official, Tom Scully, who is visiting the county to discuss a request for an unlikely $1.4-billion bailout.

Scully, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is to tour Harbor and Olive View. Supervisors had planned to vote Nov. 19 to close both hospitals if the measure didn't pass and if the federal and state governments didn't pledge more money.

Unlike Measure B, Measure A called for a one-time bond issue whose proceeds would have had to be matched by private funds. The money would have been spread among several building projects, but the bulk -- $196 million -- would have been divided between the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Both institutions are in the early stages of dramatic renovation plans that are expected to cost as much as $300 million.

The initiative would have cost the owner of a $250,000 home an additional $6.96 in taxes the first year, which would have declined over the 30-year life of the bond.

Before they could receive bond money, the museums would have had to separately raise about $1.15 in private funds for every public dollar. Also, both would have been required to increase their free admissions to children and school groups by 50% over 2001-02 levels.

Measure A supporters raised $4.9 million in contributions and loans through late October. Opponents spent nothing, according to county records.

In the days leading up to the vote, Measure A advocates kept images of cracked ceilings and potentially unstable buildings before voters in TV spots. However, critics argued the bond issue was an excuse for the museums to launch new projects.

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