Gov. Jerry Brown claims to be a strong proponent of realigning state government to give counties more control. However, his actions don’t always support his words. For example, as he seeks to realign programs from the state to local governments, he is trying to divert money to state coffers from successful locally-controlled programs that support young children.
Proposition 10, passed by voters in 1998, directs tobacco tax revenue to early childhood development programs and created First 5 commissions in each county to oversee and administer the funds.
Proposition 10 includes a provision that any diversion of funds away from its stated purpose must be approved by voters. At first, it appeared Brown was ready to ask the electorate to take $1 billion from local First 5’s and put it in Medi-Cal. But then the state Legislature passed AB 99, which did just that. Brown signed the bill into law in March.
In response, about a half-dozen First 5 commissions filed suit, claiming AB 99 is illegal because it avoided ballot approval and redirects money in a way that is not consistent with Proposition 10’s voter-mandated purpose. While Brown said he plans to fight the lawsuits, he did omit the $1 billion in First 5 funds from his proposed May budget revise because of the county litigation. Now it appears he’s set to balance the budget without Proposition 10 dollars. So, it only makes sense that he repeal AB 99 and avoid a potentially costly legal battle.
At a time when critical services for low-income children and their families are being deeply cut, the state’s actions are shredding safety net programs put in place by locally-controlled agencies. As a result of AB99, local First 5 commissions are making drastic cuts:
- First 5 Sacramento cut $43.7 million from its budget, which reduced funding for programs that assist women with breastfeeding and help young children transition into school, according to the Sacramento Press.
- First 5 San Diego will reduce its budget by more than 26 percent over the next four years, affecting home visiting family support and preschool programs, California Helpline reported.
- First 5 Riverside is reducing or eliminating nearly all its early childhood program contracts to compensate for up to a $30 million loss, according to Inland Empire News.
- First 5 LA is struggling to cut a whopping $425 million from its programs budget.
AB 99 is simply Band-Aid budgeting by politicians who should really be looking for long-term solutions and the sort of realignment of services to the local level that is exemplified in county First 5’s safety net and prevention programs. Without reform, more locally-controlled programs that work, like First 5, will be subject to such painful measures.
Evelyn V. Martinez is Chief Executive Officer of First 5 LA