Editorials

A better prescription for helping Sacramento’s kids

Sacramento voters recently rejected Measure Y, which would have allocated millions of dollars a year from the taxation of commercial pot farms to pay for youth programs. But a “Measure Y 2.0,” to be weighed by the city’s Budget and Audit Committee in a few weeks, may give the City Council more say over how pot tax revenue is spent.
Sacramento voters recently rejected Measure Y, which would have allocated millions of dollars a year from the taxation of commercial pot farms to pay for youth programs. But a “Measure Y 2.0,” to be weighed by the city’s Budget and Audit Committee in a few weeks, may give the City Council more say over how pot tax revenue is spent. Sacramento Bee file

School’s out for the summer and, for yet another year, parents are asking themselves: Now what?

Try as Sacramento City Council members might, they just can’t seem to cobble together enough money to consistently fund programs for kids. It’s a problem that has plagued this city ever since the Great Recession and the not-so-great rounds of belt-tightening that followed it.

In recent years, the pools have closed and then reopened. The basic infrastructure of city parks has crumbled and been restored. Money for gang prevention programs has dried up and then grown again.

The Sacramento Summer Night Lights program is back for another year. And the council did shore up the budgets of the 4th R and START after-school programs with a one-time investment.

But don’t kid yourself. The future of all of these programs is uncertain and the demand for them far exceeds the supply. And the city’s M.O. of starting programs with promises of ample funding and then pushing them off on cash-strapped nonprofit partners isn’t a sustainable model.

Going forward, the City Council must make it a priority to carve out a bigger, more reliable source of funding.

Measure Y was supposed to do that, but failed at the polls earlier this month. Voters, by the thinnest of margins, decided it wasn’t such a good idea to wall-off millions of dollars a year from the taxation of commercial pot farms to pay for youth programs.

But the plan hasn’t gone up in smoke completely.

In a few weeks, the city’s Budget and Audit Committee will consider what can only be described as Measure Y 2.0 – another plan to use tax dollars from marijuana to pay for programs. Yet, unlike the original Measure Y, council members will have a lot more say over the details.

That’s good news. We urged voters to reject Measure Y primarily because it would’ve been ballot-box budgeting. If passed, it would’ve tied the council’s hands in making spending decisions and in dealing with the next budget crunch.

Measure Y 2.0 is more flexible. Overall, it’s a smarter plan that addresses most, but not all, of our concerns.

Instead of imposing an automatic 5 percent business tax on pot farms, for example, the council would be able to decide on a percentage and change it. The new and improved version also probably will have a funding cap. So, if the tax generates more than the estimated $5 million a year, the council would be able to use the extra cash in other areas.

There’s still no policy link between what is being taxed and where the revenue goes, since marijuana is illegal for children. And there’s still a perverse incentive for the city to allow more cultivation to increase revenue.

But the status quo isn’t working. Currently, the city spends only about 1 percent of it general fund on youth programs.

Such activities to keep teens busy, particularly in the idle days of summer, are important for Sacramento. After all, according to some accounts, violent crime is rising faster here than in many cities across the country.

Last year, the number of murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults all climbed, often in impoverished neighborhoods near Del Paso Boulevard and Mack Road.

Taxing marijuana might not be ideal way to address these problems and keep kids on the path to success, but the 65 percent of voters who supported an imperfect Measure Y were sending a clear message. It’s time for Sacramento to make youths a priority.

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