SUPERIOR COURT HEARS ORAL ARGUMENTS ON THE LEGALITY OF AB 99

State Legislature’s bill by-passed California voters in an attempt to take $1 billion from Children and Families Commissions throughout the state

FRESNO, CA – The Fresno Superior Court heard oral arguments yesterday on the legality of AB 99 in response to the lawsuit filed by the First 5 California county commissions against Governor Jerry Brown. The state Legislature passed AB 99, which circumvents voters and transfers $1 billion of voter-approved Proposition10, tobacco tax revenue, from local health and early education programs for young children to a new state fund that was created to help close the state’s continuing budget gap.

Twelve First 5/Children and Families Commissions throughout the state of California are challenging the legality of the Legislature’s bill which by-passed voter approval to transfer $50 million from the statewide First 5 Commission and $950 million from local county First 5 Commissions. Voters have consistently voted against Legislative attempts to take Proposition 10 funds, most recently in May 2009.

“We are disappointed that the Legislature passed AB 99 and effectively tied up $51.4 million in Orange County that could be used now for critical programs and services for young children,” said Michael Ruane, Executive Director of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County. “Now county commissions have to wage a lengthy legal battle to protect funds that support hundreds of local programs that serve at-risk children and families.”

Proposition 10 is the 50-cent tobacco tax initiative that was passed in 1998. Twenty percent of the tobacco tax revenue is allocated to the statewide First 5 Commission and 80 percent is allocated to county First 5 commissions based on the county birth rate. The funds are used to support local health and early education programs for the purpose of providing resources so children can be healthy and ready to learn when they enter kindergarten.

In response to the AB 99 budget action and the corresponding reduction of Proposition 10 revenues the Children and Families Commission went through an extensive effort this past spring to prioritize funding and align program and administration expenses within available resources. As a result the Commission was forced to implement drastic budget reductions and eliminate funding for local programs and services in order to pay the state by June 30, 2012.

“We are confident that the court will rule in favor of all the young children and families that could be affected by this blatant attempt to negate the will of the California voters,” said Ruane. “However the ruling goes, we anticipate a lengthy legal process that will keep the funds in limbo and from their real intended purpose of serving children.”