Among the propositions before voters on the Nov. 2 ballot is a measure forwarded by the Arizona Legislature that would sweep some $345 million from a voter-approved account for children's development and health into the state's general fund.
The proposal, Proposition 302 on the ballot, would eliminate the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board — also called First Things First — and cease funding children's health programs the money supports.
The text of the proposition says the money would be separately accounted for in the general fund and used to support similar services for children.
Proponents of Prop 302 say the state needs the money to help balance the budget, which faces a deficit of $1.4 billion. Opponents say the programs First Things First supports provide valuable services that would be lost if the proposition passes.
"In some cases it's been wonderfully helpful in letting us continue programs cut by DHS (Arizona Department of Health Services)," said Ema Kammeyer, CEO of the Easter Seals Blake Foundation in Tucson.
Easter Seals Blake Foundation provides numerous locally operated community services with help from First Things First grants.
Kammeyer said the programs are better run than they would be if they were operated through the state's AHCCCS program.
"It's really very quick access for the families," Kammeyer said. "It's more responsive and more flexible."
She said the money from First Things First has also helped to create systems to deliver services locally that would be lost.
"If you are going to continue to deliver these services, the state would have to create new infrastructure," Kammeyer said.
Voters approved the establishment of the board in 2006, which issues grants to outside agencies that provide early childhood health and development programs through an 80-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is one group in favor of Prop 302.
"If we do not pass 302, the ultimate effect of that could mean programs aimed at helping kids could be cut," said Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Taylor said the state's continued budget shortfalls make approval of the proposition necessary, but acknowledges that it won't definitively fix the problem.
"If Prop 302 fails, that doesn't change the budget situation," Taylor said. He added failure of the proposition would likely lead to cuts in the same programs opponents want to fund.
He also said the chamber recognizes that First Things First help to pay for viable and useful programs, but said it was one of the only government funds with money to help balance the budget.
"We know it's not going to be a cure all," Taylor said. "There just aren't a lot of good options in front of the lawmakers right now."
For more info
Supporters of Prop 302: kidsfirstaz.com
Opponents of Prop 302: savingfirstthingsfirst.org