Proposition 203, "First Things First," was designed to be popular. But should it be? It significantly expands government's role in the upbringing of young children and it's funded with a regressive tax.
The $150 million tax would fund a grab-bag of pre-kindergarten education and health programs. Regional partnership councils would be created to distribute the money statewide.
In Arizona, low-income children are already entitled to comprehensive childcare, including Head Start, free comprehensive medical services, and a myriad of other programs. As such, the main beneficiaries of First Things First will be middle class families who currently pay for child care.
All this new free stuff for the middle class must be paid for somehow. This time it's an 80-cents-per-pack tax on tobacco products.
Policymakers know you can't go wrong slapping around tobacco companies or smokers. But economists agree that tobacco taxes are extremely regressive, paid mostly by low-income taxpayers. This program benefiting middle class children will be paid for by the economically disadvantaged.
It is impossible to improve the lot of children if you diminish the role of the family. Instead of creating new programs, policymakers could strengthen families by helping parents be accessible and responsible to their children instead of supplanting them.
Tom Patterson is the chairman of the Goldwater Institute and a former state senator. A longer version of this article appeared in the East Valley Tribune.