A Fresno County judge has ruled that state lawmakers' move to shift $1 billion away from local First 5 commissions was illegal, the Fresno Bee reports (Yamamura, Fresno Bee, 11/29).
In 1998, California voters approved Proposition 10, which imposed a tax on cigarettes to raise funds for First 5. State and county-level First 5 commissions use the tax revenue to fund early childhood health and education programs (California Healthline, 4/5).
In March, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill (AB 99) to authorize the state to take about half of each First 5 commission's fund balance as of July 30 to help address what was a $26 billion budget deficit. State officials said the funds would go toward children's services under Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program (California Healthline, 5/3).
The state had argued that the proposed funding shift was in line with Prop. 10's goal of supporting children in their first five years of life and that not shifting the funds would mean children's health and human services programs would not be funded
In April, several county First 5 commissions filed a lawsuit to stop the move. After the commissions filed suit, Brown removed the plan to shift First 5 funds from his May budget plan (Lin, California Watch, 11/29).
Details of the Ruling
Fresno Superior Court Judge Debra Kazanjian ruled that the state could not direct the $1 billion away from First 5 commissions without voters' approval (Fresno Bee, 11/29).
In her decision, she wrote that the state's argument "is disingenuous in that it was the Legislature that 'chose' to cut funding to existing services instead of taking what might be the unpopular step of raising revenue" (Halstead, Marin Independent Journal, 11/28).
According to the Bee, Kazanjian's ruling likely will not have an immediate effect on the state budget because lawmakers removed the fund-shifting measure from the final budget plan (Fresno Bee, 11/29).
The state has 30 days to appeal the ruling (Phillips, Stockton Record, 11/29).
H. D. Palmer, a spokesperson for California's Department of Finance, said the state has not decided whether it will appeal the ruling (California Watch, 11/29).