State Officials Announce Plans for Legislation To Make Changes to First 5 Programs
State officials on Tuesday announced plans for legislation to reform the state's First 5 commissions -- which use money from cigarette taxes to fund early childhood development programs, including health care programs -- after auditors found problems within the organizations, the Los Angeles Times reports (Rivera, Los Angeles Times, 12/15).
First 5 commissions administer funds raised by a 1998 ballot measure to increase taxes on cigarettes by 50 cents per pack to finance health care and other benefit programs for children younger than age six. The organization distributes money to other organizations that provide the services (California Healthline, 12/6). The measure generates about $600 million annually for children's programs.
According to the Los Angeles Times, auditors found that some commissions failed to cap administrative spending and did not have policies for awarding contracts or defining conflict of interest (Los Angeles Times, 12/15). In addition, some counties failed to account for their spending and had no information about the effectiveness of their programs (Chea, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/15).
The Bakersfield Californian reports that the proposed legislation would:
- Require commissions to be audited every three years;
- Clarify conflict-of-interest provisions;
- More clearly define what constitutes administrative spending and cap such expenditures;
- Require a community member to serve as chair of the local commissions and more community members be commissioners; and
- Establish standards for larger contracts by requiring competitive bidding when possible (Wenner, Bakersfield Californian, 12/14).
Under the proposal, First 5 commissions that did not meet the requirements would not receive funding (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/15).
The Legislature must approve the legislation by a two-thirds majority (Bakersfield Californian, 12/14).
Assembly member Wilma Chan (D-Oakland), who plans to submit the proposal to the Legislature in January said, "We need more accountability. The program has done very well overall, but we need to strengthen it to ensure the money is spent on the services it was designed for" (Cuff, Contra Costa Times, 12/15). She added, "These reforms will ensure the tobacco tax revenues are spent on the programs and services they were designed to fund. We want the money to go to the children" (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/15).
First 5 California Commission Chair Rob Reiner said, "These are things that we should have put into the legislation anyway. It puts real teeth into the act in terms of accountability."
Evelyn Martinez, executive director of First 5 Los Angeles, said, "It seems like the so-called reforms are adding a layer of bureaucracy. If we're going to have to get approval from the state commission for every little thing, (our projects) are going to move like molasses" (Los Angeles Times, 12/15).