PROPOSITION 10: Counties Begin Reaping Benefits of Tobacco Tax
Counties across the state will finally see more than $360 million in revenues collected under Proposition 10, which raised the tobacco tax last year by 50 cents to "finance early child-development programs across the state." Although many counties have yet to develop specific plans for the funds or to appoint commissioners to supervise the revenue, San Diego County, which expects to receive $30 million today, remains "far ahead of many of its statewide counterparts," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Thus far, county officials have convened a five-member board to oversee the money, appointed a technical advisory group and held town meetings to "solicit ideas." Although no specific regulations exist on how the money should be spent, the state Children and Families Commission has provided some guidelines encouraging counties to invest in "programs that will promote healthier children, better prepare them for school and build stronger families." Among the potential uses for tax revenues: "immunizations, nutrition, parenting classes, day care [and] literacy courses." The main goal of county officials, according to Dr. Robert Ross, county health director, is to avoid "redundancies in service available to young children." He said, "Although we're thrilled about the availability of resources, a number of us are concerned that we'll add to the fragmentation of services. Our goal is to integrate existing programs and build upon successful efforts." County commission members expect dozens of applications for the funds later this year after they adopt a strategic plan. State commission Chair Rob Reiner, who helped draft the legislation and campaigned for its passage, hoped the funds would prove significant in counties' efforts on behalf of young children. "There's not enough money to solve every problem with early childhood in the state. ... This is an opportunity to improve and expand services. Anyone who works in (public schools) will tell you the best way to improve education is to invest in young children" (McDonald, 10/18).
The Largest Benefactor
L.A. County received $112 million, or nearly one-third, of the money generated by the initiative thus far, the L.A. Times notes. However, as other California counties are taking the money and running, L.A. County is stuck at the gate, continuing the debate over "whether the supervisors are handcuffing the commission charged with spending the money." State law prescribes that the spending commissions, which are to be established in all 58 counties, are fully autonomous. While 55 counties have moved ahead with spending plans, L.A. County remains tied up in bureaucracy, with the county Board of Supervisors attempting to involve itself in the process. Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa stated, "I think the county has done an abysmal job at really moving ahead to support the county commission." County commission vice-chair Neal Kaufman defended the county against allegations that it is moving too slowly with funds for early childhood development, saying, "Los Angeles is a very, very complex county. There are 150,000 pregnancies and deliveries each year (and) 700,000 to 800,000 kids under five, and to really meet their needs requires some thought" (Landsberg, L.A. Times, 10/19).