First 5 Commission's Cash Is Collecting Cobwebs, Not Helping Children

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 children.

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 them."

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.

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