In 2006, Nadine Basha and her fellow travelers put an initiative on the ballot to raise the tax on cigarettes by 80 cents a pack and to create a a committee that would spend the money instead of putting it in the general fund to be spent by the legislature.
The scheme is obviously Unconstitutional--the state's Constitution defines legislative powers and doesn't allow a private group to collect tax revenue and spend the funds as it sees fit. But let's set the legality aside for a moment and focus on practicality. How did the plan work? The answer is badly...
It turns out that if you collect $400 million in tax revenue and give it to a private group to spend it as they see fit...they are going to bog down and leave much of it unspent and much of what they do manage to spend will be sent to organizations that...(surprise) are represented on the committee.
The Republic's Pat Kosan has interesting coverage here.
Among the many criticisms lawmakers have about First Things First, three seem to rise to the top: They say that the agency is sitting on too much unused money, that it is rife with conflicts of interest and that the grants have not been fairly distributed, with half the money going to only a few organizations.
I find the irony to be quite sweet. The intelligentsia love to portray the legislature as being filled with knuckle draggers, so they created a Committee of enlightened souls to bypass legislature...and it bogged down in confusion and financial conflicts of interest.
The program has other problems as well. The "First things First" program may be unconstitutional and ineffective, but at least it's Regressive. Cigarette taxes fall disproportionately on the poor, but the services that are funded by First things First are provided primary to the middle class. I know that seems strange, but the poor already qualify for these types of services, so the incremental tax came from poor people and the incremental services went to middle class people.
(When liberals complain that Arizona's tax system is regressive, remind them that it's regressive because of high sales and "sin" taxes. Then ask them if they supported First things First, or Mayor Gordon's sales tax on food.)
Legislators are tired of the games and put Prop 302 on the ballot in an effort to fold the "First things First" money into the state's general fund. Naturally, supporters are unhappy with the prospect of having to defend their failed program and they are even more unhappy with the wording that the Legislative Committee used to describe the program.
You see "First things First" isn't actually the name of the initiative, it was the slogan on the campaign signs. The real name of the program is the"Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Program." And when the Legislature put the repeal on the ballot, they used the official name--just like it was on the ballot in 2006. Supporters cried foul and want the ballot to talk about "First Things First."
But the Judge isn't buying it.
Oberbillig said the wording crafted by a committee of lawmakers is "sufficiently neutral, non-argumentative, accurate and impartial as to not be misleading.'' And that, he said, is all the law requires.
So what's next? Well, despite their bankruptcy, I'm sure the Bashas will manage to cough up a few hundred thousand dollars to run a campaign to try to save their unconstitutional, ineffective and regressive program. After all, the Bashas are liberal icons for the lifetime of Charitable giving that they have provided to the community...contributions that will be offset a hundred fold by the defaulted debts that they leave with their vendors.
I recognize that times are hard, so if you are a political consultant and you want to try to rescue Nadine Basha's failed "First Things First" program, I won't fault you--but make sure you get paid up front.