Voters reject end to First Things First - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Voters reject end to First Things First

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Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 8:13 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

A dozen moms sit on the story room floor as their toddlers run, throw toys and cry.

It’s a fairly typical day at Marana’s Wheeler Taft Abbett Sr., Branch Library. With the voters’ rejection of Proposition 302 in the Nov. 2 election, it’s a scene likely to be repeated.

This day, children participated in a “Stay and Play” group the Marana Unified School District sponsors through a grant from the state’s First Things First program.

The Tuesday vote ensured that First Things First remains in place, with nearly 70 percent of the electorate voted against the proposition.

“I’m happy that 302 failed, actually,” Amy Nebeker said.

The Northwest resident often brings her son to the children’s groups at Wheeler Taft and other area libraries. She’s not alone. Across the state, thousands of families participate in programs funded through First Things First.

The ballot initiative asked that voters allow the legislature to sweep the nearly $325 million balance into the state’s general fund. The legislature referred the question to the ballot in hopes that voters would approve, and let lawmakers use the money to help fill a sizable budget gap.

The issue was billed as a budget-balancing measure; however, the swept funds would have gone to pay for similar child health and welfare programs.

Voters in 2006 approved the First Things First measure, which placed an 80-cent tax on a package of cigarettes.

The money is spent in five program areas, all geared toward early childhood development and health for kids up to five years old.

A central board and 31 regional partnership councils run the organization. The system distributes grant funds to partner organizations such as school districts, religious organizations and charities.

First Things First plans to distribute more than $191 million in program grants in the current budget year.

The North Pima Regional Partnership Council, which includes the Northwest, had an allocation for the current year of more than $1.6 million and covers an area with more than 6,000 families.

“We have reached approximately 3,000 to 4,000 of those families,” said Erin Lyons, the regional coordinator for the North Pima Regional Partnership Council.

If the initiative had passed, the entire First Things First network would have been eliminated.

“The program and the contracts that we engaged in would have stopped on Nov. 30,” Lyons said.

Nebeker said she was grateful that programs First Things First would continue to fund programs like the ones she attends.

“I think it’s very beneficial,” Nebeker said. “It teaches the little ones how to share, and it gives parents parenting skills.”

Proposition 302

Yes 30.01 percent 452,259 votes

No 69.98 percent 1,048, 045 votes

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