Obama wants tobacco tax to pay for universal preschool, New York Times reports

April 5, 2013

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President Barack Obama will propose raising taxes on tobacco to fund his ambitious plan to provide preschool for every child, the New York Times reported Friday. Details of the proposed tax won’t be revealed until the president’s budget is released next week, but the article answers for the first time the question on advocates’ minds since the president floated free universal preschool during his State of the Union in January: How will he pay for it?

Californians shouldn’t find that idea too much of a surprise since voters here passed a tobacco tax in 1998 to pay for the First Five Commission, which works to improve child care options in the state. Of course, one downfall of the plan, which has already been seen in California, is that the added tax does contribute to a decline in smoking, and thus decreasing revenues. First Five California takes in nearly $42 million less than it did in 1999 and the commission expects its revenues to decline another $10 million by the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

Kris Perry, director of the national First Five Years Fund, which advocates for expanded early childhood programs, and the former director of First Five California, has already come out in favor of the president’s payment plan.

“This is a smart, no nonsense revenue source that will help grow our economy in the short and long-term, while also highlighting an important public health issue,” said Perry in a statement Friday.

Obama’s State of the Union promise to provide preschool for every child in America has been greeted with enthusiasm by preschool advocates and skepticism from critics who say inexpensive public programs do not live up to the documented results of the small high-quality preschool initiatives touted by the president.


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