The First 5 commission in Los Angeles announced yesterday that it will sue the state over legislation that transfers $1 billion from early childhood development programs to state health services.
First 5 LA joins a growing list of commissions challenging the legislation, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month.
Four First 5 county commissions – Fresno, Madera, Merced and Orange – filed suit earlier this month. The Riverside and Solano commissions, both organized as county agencies, have recommended their county boards of supervisors pursue litigation on their behalf. First 5 Kern is considering joining or filing a lawsuit as well.
First 5 was established in 1998, when voters approved Proposition 10, the California Children and Families Act. The initiative placed a 50-cent tax on tobacco products to fund development programs and services for children ages 5 and younger.
Any changes to the act must be approved by voters or, as long as amendments further the act and are consistent with the purpose and intent of the initiative, by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. In addition, Proposition 10 revenue can only supplement services or fund entirely new programs; it cannot replace state or local general funds, or pay for existing levels of service.
In their lawsuits, the commissions contend that the funding shift goes against the initiative's intent because it would supplant existing state health services, without voter approval. First 5 LA, which has not yet filed its suit, will argue the same.
"We adamantly oppose redirecting monies intended to be used at the local level, to Sacramento," Michael D. Antonovich, First 5 LA commission chair and Los Angeles County mayor, said in a statement. "These are local dollars and should be controlled locally."
Because more births occur in Los Angeles than in any other county, First 5 LA receives the largest share of Proposition 10 revenue each year. That also means it stands to lose more money than any other commission – more than $424 million.
Collectively, First 5 LA and the four county commissions that have already filed suit hold nearly half of the $1 billion sought by the state. The state budget requires them to shift half their fund balances – nearly $498.8 million all together – by June 30, 2012.
UPDATED 11 a.m. April 15, 2011: First 5 Solano announced that the Solano County Board of Supervisors has directed its attorneys to initiate litigation against the funding shift. The county may join other commissions in an existing lawsuit or file its own.
Under the state budget, First 5 Solano must transfer about $8.8 million of its funds to the state. The commission approved up to $100,000 for legal fees earlier this month.
"While I can think of 100,000 things our children need more than spending $100,000 on legal action, it's a small price to pay to keep $8.8 million here in our community," said commission chair Danny Ayala.