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Campaign committee aims to dismantle First Things First

Supporters of a proposal to dismantle program for early childhood development have formed a campaign committee to persuade voters to approve the measure this November.

The campaign committee is headed by Pamela Pickard, a member of the Central Arizona Project board.

The group, called “Kid’s First – Yes on 302,” faces a difficult task, and probably an uphill battle. It has about two months to raise money to counter a campaign aimed at defeating the ballot measure. The opposition campaign had raised $120,000 as of early August.

“We have to be responsible as taxpayers. We can’t just expect our Legislature to do everything,” Pickard explained why she and others formed the “yes” campaign. “Our intent is to help kids, but help kids by using that money more efficiently and by taking away a level of bureaucracy.”

The “yes” campaign faces another hurdle in that it will be asking voters to dismantle a program that voters approved a few years ago. But the state’s budget crisis has led to cutbacks in nearly every area of state government, and eliminating the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board, more popularly known as First Things First, would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We need to get the word out there so that we can hopefully build some support and get it passed or we’re going to have a big hole in our budget,” said Senate President Bob Burns, who is supporting the “yes” campaign.

Burns said the budget reductions that would be necessary if voters decide to keep First Things First would probably hit the same areas that were on the chopping block earlier this year when voters approved a one-cent sales tax increase. That budget-reduction plan called for steep budget cuts in education, health services, and public safety.

“We don’t have any place else to go,” Burns said. “If we’re going to continue the (maintenance of effort) on education (and) health care then there’s nowhere else to go to make reductions.”

The Senate president is referring to maintenance-of-efforts requirements that Arizona has to keep in order to receive federal money.

Early this year, the Legislature approved a proposal to ask voters in November to dismantle the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board. The decision came amid a multi-billion, multi-year budget crisis.

The stakes are high for both sides of the issue — and those caught in between.

If voters approve the proposal this November, First Things First, a tobacco-tax funded agency dedicated to serving children up to age 5, would go away. The measure is Proposition 302.

If the public rejects the proposal, the state would face an additional $325 million in deficit.

The state budget is already unbalanced.

State tax collections — not accounting for the 1-cent sales tax increase — are below forecast. Additionally, Arizona had anticipated receiving about $400 million in federal health care money but is only getting $236 million.

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