If enacted, Prop 1D would provide over $600 million to protect health and human services programs for children by temporarily redirecting existing tobacco tax money from First 5 California, a government-funded early childhood program created in 1998. Funding would go toward services for at-risk families, children with disabilities and foster children.
The proposition would also help balance the state budget, amounting to a projected state General Fund savings of up to $608 million in 2009-2010 and $268 million annually from 2010-2011 through 2013-2014.
Endorsing the legislation is The California Latino Child Development Association and Budget Reform Now, a coalition led by Governor Schwarzenegger that is pushing for all six budget-related ballot measures.
“Prop 1D takes funds currently not being used to help backfill cuts to other children’s programs that have been made in health care, foster care and other important programs,” said Julie Soderland, a spokesperson for the Budget Reform Now campaign.
In order to fix the bloated budget, cuts have already been made and taxes have been raised, she said.
“This helps alleviate some of those cuts and prevent the need for additional revenue increases,” Soderland said. “In many situations a lot of the same kids are targeted under [the new legislation] as under First 5.“
Opponents, on the other hand, say that Prop 1D does not do enough and merely appears to protect services while actually cutting funding.
As much as $1.6 billion in unspent First 5 funding would be set at the disposal of state and local governments.
“Prop 1D is not a solution,” said Joanne Leavitt, a consultant for early childhood education for the League of Women Voters of California. “It’s taking money that serves one group of children in order to serve another group of children and not expanding funding.“
The proposition would also transfer the control of funds from the First 5 commissions to county and state politicians, a change that has nothing to do with the proclaimed budget improvements, Leavitt said.
Some estimate Prop 1D would eliminate health care, immunization and booster shots for 120,000 California children; preschool and education services for more than 200,000 children; smoking prevention aimed at 550,000 pregnant women and parents of young children; and $36 million each year for children’s hospitals, school nurses and smoking prevention.
Another issue is that Prop 1D will requisition more than half of First 5 funding for the next five years.
“This is money that voters raised under Prop 10 [in 1998],” said Sherry Novick, executive director for First 5 California. “Voters did not just say this is what California should do, they found a funding source for it and raised their own money.“
By taking $268 million each year from First 5, Prop 1D fails to take into account that the tobacco tax revenue is projected to decline 3 to 5 percent per year, leaving First 5 commissions with as little as 35 to 45 percent of their current revenues in the coming years, Novick said.
Beginning Apr. 1, an additional federal tax on cigarettes of 62 cents per pack will also hurt tobacco tax revenues, making it increasingly difficult to provide insurance for the 78,000 kids that currently receive assistance from First 5, she said.
“In early education First 5 has been the main source of funding for pre-school education,” Novick said. “Prop 1D will have a huge impact on what local commissions can fund in their counties. It just seems a bit cruel for legislators to take away the money that voters themselves raised.“
For legislators, though, the good outweighs the bad – a balanced budget is the objective.
Officially, the California Democratic Party adopted a position of neutrality regarding Prop 1D at its annual convention in April, though approximately 58 percent of convention attendees supported the measure.
As a whole, the California legislature voted 75-3 and 37-0 in support of Prop 1D in the Assembly and the Senate, respectively.
“At their heart both the supporters and the opponents want the same thing here, and that’s what is best for the children involved,” Soderland said. “Unfortunately everybody has to give up something.“
AARON BRUNER can be reached at email@example.com.