Many Voter-Approved Programs Spared From California Budget Cuts
Some California programs created by voter-approved ballot initiatives will maintain funding even as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) enacts major budget cuts to basic service programs, drawing questions from some lawmakers and advocacy groups, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Funding mechanisms for many ballot initiatives are written into the state constitution as amendments, making it more difficult for lawmakers to modify the funding formulas later.
In 1998, California voters approved the California Children and Families Act, a ballot initiative that increased the state tobacco tax by 50 cents per pack of cigarettes to fund early childhood health care and education programs.
The program, called First 5, currently has about $2 billion of unspent funds, according to Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks), who is seeking to repeal the program and reallocate its funds to help enroll children in Healthy Families, California's version of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Carol Baker -- a spokesperson for First 5 L.A., the group that administers the program in Los Angeles County -- said Cox is overlooking the long-term nature of many of the initiative's funding priorities, including the program's need to build a financial reserve as smoking rates decline in California.
Proposition 63, the 2004 measure that increased the state income tax on high-income residents, also has drawn attention during budget talks. Proceeds of the tax are used to fund new mental health services but cannot be used to maintain services in existing programs.
Patricia Ryan, executive director of the California Mental Health Directors Association, said, "It is hard to explain to county supervisors why we are cutting staff and services at the same time we are asking them to approve a contract for entirely new programs" (Halper, Los Angeles Times, 2/19).