Alameda County is using the $20 million a year it receives from the Proposition 10 tobacco tax approved by voters in 1998 to improve the quality of life for children and families through the Every Child Counts program, part of the Children and Families Commission.
Among other benefits, the program funds early health care and education programs for young children, offers family support services, and reduces exposure to tobacco and other harmful substances, according to Mark Friedman, executive director of the Alameda County Children and Families Commission.
“We think there’s a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to make sure that we shepherd these resources as best we can,” Friedman said during his appearance Tuesday at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. “If we don’t do a good job with these resources, then we won’t get the opportunity again.”
California voters approved Prop 10, the California Children and Families First Act of 1998, by a margin of 1 percent. It put a 50-cent, per-pack surtax on cigarettes and required the counties to use it for community health care services.
Some $680 million a year is collected with 20 percent going to a statewide commission. The remaining 80 percent is divided among California’s 58 counties using a formula that takes into account birthrates and the number of smokers.
While Alameda County gets $20 million, San Francisco gets $7 million and Santa Clara County, the largest in the Bay Area, gets $28 million. Marin, San Mateo, and Contra Costa counties receive amounts ranging from four to $13 million.
Alameda County’s programs support caregivers, promote school readiness, and coordinate local, county and state services.
Opponents of Proposition 10 have said that it takes money away from other health and human service programs. Friedman acknowledged that he has heard this complaint before. He said they were referring to Prop 99, an old tobacco tax, which levies a 25 cent tax that goes for education against tobacco use. Since the two taxes have dampened cigarette sales, he said, the money collected from Prop 99 has been reduced. Still, voters appear to support the newer tax. Efforts to repeal Prop 10, have failed.
"However, the tobacco industry does not go away," Friedman warned.
The State of California was named in three lawsuits regarding Prop 10, but thus far, the proposition is still alive. "We think Prop 10 is not be the most elegant way of providing those services, by having to tax tobacco and particularly hurt a lot of low income people who may be addicted to tobacco, but it’s the best vehicle we have right now," he said.
"We’re not so arrogant to think that what we’ve designed here is the best way to do things, we just think it’s the best thing we can accomplish right now for children."
Friedman’s talk was part of a series on issues that impact children and families sponsored by the Action Alliance for Children United Way of the Bay Area and Providian Financial.