Tuesday night, the Sacramento City Council has the opportunity to make a statement of its values and priorities with a proposal to place a measure on the June 7 ballot to create a dedicated funding source for children and youths.
It will provide desperately needed resources to help our young people succeed in their education, career and life. The proposal is to place a small tax on the cultivation and manufacturing of marijuana. The real decision before the council is not whether to tax this industry but where to direct the funds.
The need for additional children’s services is very real in Sacramento, where 29 percent of children live in poverty, 73 percent of Sacramento City Unified students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunches, and 64 percent of third-graders scored below proficiency for English.
We say we are a full-service city, but we aren’t for children and young people. In 2014-15, the city spent $2.5 million, or less than 1 percent of its general fund dollars, on services for youths.
While children under 18 are 25 percent of the population, they cannot vote and don’t have a paid lobbyist. This is why the council should place the measure on the ballot so that the voters can ultimately decide.
The proposed measure would place a 5 percent tax on marijuana cultivation and manufacturing and generate an estimated $5 million annually. To maximize impact, most of the funds would go to community-based organizations through a competitive process. To ensure quality, each funded program would be evaluated. To ensure transparency, the fund would have an oversight committee.
Public safety is incredibly important. That is why most of our general fund dollars are directed toward our police and fire departments. However, programs that keep children engaged in positive learning opportunities also keep them out of police cars. We need both a fully funded police department and a robust set of prevention programs.
The measure has broad support from community-based organizations and nonprofits that work with children and youths. They see firsthand the challenges our children face. The measure also is supported by many of those in the marijuana industry. They embrace regulation and want to contribute to making our city a place where kids thrive.
We all want a full-service, first-class city. However, if we are ever going to get there, it will be because of investments we make in human infrastructure, not just physical infrastructure. Those investments need to start with our city’s youngest and most in need.
Tuesday night, we can do more than talk about how much we value children. We can act.
Jay Schenirer represents District 5 on the Sacramento City Council and is the author of the Sacramento Children’s Fund Initiative. He can be contacted at JSchenirer@cityofsacramento.org.