Kavanaugh Wants To Redirect Early Childhood Funds To CPS

January 06, 2014

A veteran state lawmaker is hoping to siphon money away from a program for early childhood development to help foster families and reduce the backlog at Child Protective Services.

Fountain Hills Republican Rep. John Kavanagh says the money, generated by an $0.80-per-pack tax on cigarettes could make a major difference at CPS. Right now Kavanagh says the voter-approved measure funds First Things First, which finances everything from pre-kindergarten programs to subsidized child care.

“It's an awful lot of taxpayer dollars going to First Things First,” Kavanagh said. “We're talking about very high, crying need high risk children.”

Kavanagh’s plan would take a quarter of the funds, or about $33 million per year. 

First Things First interim director Sam Leyvas says he sympathizes with what Kavanagh is trying to do, but will fight any effort to strip the funds, saying it would hurt many of those Kavanagh says he’s trying to help.

“In a lot of ways, I think, the proposal itself is a little bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Leyvas said. “First Things First already contributes in a lot of ways resources for vulnerable families and children.”

Leyvas says his organization spends more than 30 percent of its money on subsidies for about 14,000 low-income families to help them afford child care. And, he says much of that became necessary, when lawmakers cut child care funding, creating a waiting list of more than 6,700 youngsters.

But lawmakers can’t approve the funding change on their own. That requires voter approval and an earlier effort to take all the tobacco tax money to keep the state budget in balance was soundly defeated.

Kavanagh plans to start hearings on his proposal after the Legislature convenes later this month.