Children’s advocates in Alameda County and the city of Sacramento are waiting on hundreds of thousands of votes from Tuesday’s election still uncounted, which could determine the fate of measures to provide more child care to low-income children.
In Alameda County, proponents of Measure C are proclaiming victory, after the measure got approval from 61 percent of voters. The measure would add a half percent sales tax on local purchases — 50 cents for every $100 — to raise an estimated $30 million a year for pediatric health care and an estimated $120 million a year for improving child care workers’ wages and increasing the number of subsidized child care and preschool slots for low-income children.
“We’re celebrating. We are definitely celebrating,” said Clarissa Doutherd, director of Parent Voices Oakland, a parent-led advocacy group that is one of the organizations backing Measure C. “There are thousands of parents and children that are now going to be benefiting from affordable, accessible child care and pediatric health care services.”
It is unclear whether Measure C will go into effect right away. If the measure falls short of a two-thirds majority, Alameda County may choose to wait to begin collecting the new sales tax until legal challenges involving other local tax initiatives are resolved, said county supervisor Wilma Chan. There are five lawsuits in California regarding whether citizen initiatives require a simple majority or a two-thirds vote.
A California law requires a two-thirds vote for local governments to raise taxes for a specific purpose, like child care. However, San Francisco and Oakland officials have argued in court that only a simple majority is needed if a tax measure was put on the ballot by voters, and not by the local government. A San Francisco Superior Court judge agreed that citizen initiatives only require a simple majority vote, while judges in Fresno and Alameda counties have both said they need a two-thirds majority. All the cases have been appealed.
Looking at all of the votes cast in Alameda County, only 163,000 votes have been counted, while an estimated 250,000 votes are still uncounted, according to the county registrar of voters. Most of those uncounted ballots are mail-in ballots that were either postmarked or turned in at a polling place on election day. Proponents of Measure C are hoping that some of those uncounted votes will be in favor of Measure C and will push the yes votes up to two-thirds.
A senior staff attorney for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said the organization may take Alameda County to court over the measure if it does not reach a two-thirds majority.
“It is possible we will litigate. Measure C did not get sufficient voter approval to pass. It should have gotten two-thirds,” said Laura Dougherty, senior staff attorney for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “There are currently five cases on this issue in the courts, four in the Bay Area and one in Fresno. At least one, if not all of them, will end up in the California Supreme Court. We really won’t have an answer to this issue until one or all of the cases get to the Supreme Court.”
A separate measure in Sacramento County, Measure G, only requires a simple majority to win, but fell short on election night, with 46 percent of voters approving it. Proponents of the measure hope uncounted votes will push it over the 50 percent mark.
Measure G would dedicate 2.5 percent of the city’s unrestricted revenues for the next 12 years to a “children’s fund” to pay for early childhood education programs, summer and after-school programs, job training and alcohol and drug use prevention, among other services for children and young people under 25 years old, prioritizing those “most impacted by poverty, trauma and violence.” The measure was opposed by the current mayor and two retired mayors, who argued that it could force the city to stop funding other programs.
A local measure in the small city of Emeryville, near Oakland, passed easily with 71 percent voter approval, much more than the two-thirds needed. Measure F will add a quarter percent sales tax to local purchases to raise an estimated $2 million every year for affordable child care and preschool, in addition to police, fire and emergency services.
All three measures were hailed by Margaret Brodkin, director of Funding the Next Generation, an advocacy organization that offers guidance for local communities seeking to fund children’s services.
“This is a fairly new thing, to get people who are advocates for kids into the political arena and playing hard ball with other groups that are much more used to this kind of political undertaking,” Brodkin said. “To me, it is very inspiring that people are trying to do it and coming very close, and in fact may win.”