Ten years ago, voters
established the First 5 Commission to use tobacco tax revenues for
improving the lives of California's children. Its proponents argued
that the First 5 Commission would "provide child immunizations, health
care, nutrition services, domestic violence prevention, and
treatment..." from the time they were born until they entered
kindergarten. However, political gain and mismanagement have corrupted
that noble goal.
To begin with, the First 5
Commission spent tens of millions of dollars intended to provide
direct services to kids on ads advocating the virtues of preschool
while an initiative to mandate preschool was being circulated by the
First 5 Commissioner. Now it has been discovered that the First 5
Commission and its 58 county commissions are letting billions of
dollars collect dust rather than be used to provide services for
According to The Sacramento
Bee (January 17, 2008), the 58 "county commissions in
California that decide how to use money from [Proposition 10] are
sitting on a combined balance of more than $2 billion…."
And, that is not including the state portion of
"a nearly $367 million surplus."
While it is prudent to have a
rainy day fund, the "$2 billion
balance was nearly four times the amount that county programs spent in
2007." That's hardly what voters intended for the
Commission to do with these tax dollars.
When the county First 5
Commissions did spend taxpayer money, they spent funds on
"swimming, photography and other
programs… of questionable value...," rather than on
critical immunizations and other healthcare programs. Although the
authorized programs may be worthy, how exactly does community
photography improve a toddler's health and well-being?
What's more, while the First 5
Commission has more than $2 billion collecting cobwebs,
"California has an estimated 800,000
uninsured children…while advocates [for these children] say it would
cost less than $500 million annually to provide [health] coverage for
The executive director of the
association of First 5 county commissions defended the surplus by
explaining that the county commissions
"'do business differently from typical
government agencies.'" Yes, they are the polar opposite
of the typical agencies that overspend, and then demand more for the
following budget year. But, one still has to question whether they are
effectively serving the children they were created to help and
protect, or if the money is being spent to keep their administrators
happy and well paid.