Proceeds of Cigarette Tax To Fund Child Development Programs Largely Unused, Report Finds
Five counties have not spent about 85% of the funding -- $909 million -- they have received as a result of a 1998 ballot initiative to tax tobacco products to fund early childhood development programs, including health care programs, according to a state report issued Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports. Proposition 10 in 1998 established a statewide 50-cent tax on tobacco products to fund child care programs for low-income children in the state. The report found that some county panels assigned to distribute the money "kept incomplete records, did not establish clear rules for hiring contractors or failed to evaluate the effectiveness of programs they did fund," the Times reports. For example, officials in Los Angeles County designated $100 million for a program to provide universal health coverage to children ages five and younger. However, the program has not begun to operate, according to Evelyn Martinez, executive director of First 5 LA, the group distributing the tobacco tax proceeds in the county.
Sen. Dean Florez (D-Bakersfield) said, "They promised that every single penny was going to be spent on children (ages) 0 to five. To find out we're sitting on a pile of cash -- that doesn't do anything for a child in Baldwin Park ... or Compton." Martinez said she thought Los Angeles County fared well in the report, considering the size of the project. Ben Austin, an aide to film producer Rob Reiner, who proposed the cigarette tax, said, "We're very confident that money that has been allocated has gone to children. If any public dollar is spent improperly, that's something we have to look at" (Banks, Los Angeles Times, 7/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.