Sacramento voters will decide whether to set aside a 5 percent tax on marijuana cultivators to fund youth services. Measure Y was authored by Councilman Jay Schenirer. He says youth services are woefully underfunded and a dedicated revenue stream is necessary to improve the health and safety of children in the city.
Schenirer’s Chief of Staff, Joseph Devlin says the council hasn’t funded these programs yet and that’s why they’re asking the voters to weigh in.
“There’s a gap between what our young people need in this city and what we’re able to provide,” Devlin says. “There’s a lot of prevention programs we know work, that schools are not able to do.”
Councilman Jeff Harris says Measure Y will divert money from other necessary city services. He's firmly against it.
“It’s a really poor fiscal policy move for the city to take,” Harris says. “When you look at our general fund and how we run the city – of course we have to tackle many, many issues – that’s why we have the general fund. When you run the city, you have to run the whole city; you can’t start carving off pieces just because it’s your particular passion.”
Without Measure Y, future taxes generated from marijuana cultivation would go into the general fund. Measure Y directs a percentage of that tax revenue to youth programs, such as the nonprofit literacy organization 916 Ink, headed by Katie McCleary.
“As an individual, I am in full support of Measure Y because it's time for our city to invest in young people by solidifying a funding stream for community based organizations who provide life changing services to youth citizens,” McCleary explains. “If the money were to go into the general fund, I fear it will be swallowed by police and fire (which almost 80-85 percent of the city budget goes toward). Youth services will always be dropped to the bottom of priorities and Measure Y ensures they won't be forgotten.”
Councilman Harris says the city already does plenty to help youth. He points to the B Street Theater, St. John’s Program for Real Change (for homeless mothers and youth) and the Gang Prevention and Intervention Task Force, all of which were funded through the normal budget process.
Devlin says the city isn't doing enough.
“The need has been there and we’ve never been able to fund those programs," Devlin says. "Children don’t have lobbyists. These programs are the last to be funded and the last to be cut. The political will has yet to be found by the majority of the council.”
Harris’s concern is city services that benefit youth aren’t currently funded at baseline.
“I can foresee, in the future, if we hit another bump in the road economically and we’re in a deficit year that we’d be funding these youth programs while we’re cutting community centers and laying off cops – that’s a place we do not want to get to. So all this money has to go into the general fund.”
Devlin says it’s a low-risk, high-gain proposition.
“I think we have a great deal of discretion over the general fund and what those priorities are,” Devlin says. “This is a very small amount of money in the great scheme of things when looking at the budget at a total.”
Harris isn’t buying that argument.
“Five million dollars means the world when you have a $2 million deficit," Harris says. "If you have a deficit, you’re cutting something. We need the flexibility to run the whole city.”
Marijuana cultivators and dispensaries support Measure Y. The Sacramento Bee recently reported the pro-Measure Y campaign raised more than $92,000 from marijuana-related businesses.
Yes on Y or no on Y, it's out of the council's hands. Sacramento voters will decide.