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Still A Bad Idea

Youth subsidy plan helps special interests, not kids

By Jeff Harris
September 2022

It’s déjà vu all over again. My City Council colleague Jay Schenirer convinced eight members to place a youth fund guarantee on the November ballot. I said no, respecting the wishes of voters who twice rejected this misguided idea.

Are youth programs a bad thing? Of course not. The city already spends more than $23 million on programs for young people every year.

We fund after-school programs, workforce development, youth employment, gang prevention and gun violence reduction, youth recreation, community centers, public safety academies and more.

Here’s why Measure L is the wrong way to support our kids:

Let’s start with why voters turned down the earlier two versions. Voters said “No!” because the plan is ballot box budgeting and fiscally irresponsible.

The measure is an attempt to fund nonprofit organizations with tax dollars carved out from essential city services.

Schenirer owns a nonprofit that provides youth services. He says his organization would receive no money from this fund. I believe him. But organizations he works with could be eligible.

In recent years, City Council member Angelique Ashby and Mayor Darrell Steinberg joined me to fight this proposal. This time they changed sides. They say they flipped because this iteration gives the council final say on which programs get funded.

Seriously? We already have that authority. We don’t need a new measure to perfect it.

How do you think the city should spend your tax dollars? What are your priorities? Should spending on youth programs (recreation, job training and the like) be untouchable thanks to a charter amendment, forcing essential programs to go unfunded?

School districts bear the primary responsibility to serve youth. The city is neither an educational nor social service agency. Measure L makes us both. It puts the city on the hook to pick up where school districts fall short.

What about crime reduction, cleaning debris generated by homeless camps and the crisis of homelessness itself? How about creating safe routes to school, addressing climate change with increased green mobility options, and spending more to repair and maintain parks that serve our youth?

The city’s unfunded park repair bill is $178 million. Despite my protests, the City Council refused to spend a dime on parks and climate change at midyear.

The youth fund measure would amend our city charter to devote another $10 million annually on youth spending. That obligation would be locked up forever, limiting our ability to fund critical programs. Options to close budget deficits would disappear.

The youth fund lock box could lower our bond rating and decrease our ability to issue general obligation bonds for essential projects. The mayor says he wants to issue bonds for a youth athletic field on 100 acres the city purchased to address homelessness. Measure L could kill that plan.

Should enhanced youth spending be the city’s only protected fund? I say no. We have many urgent problems to solve. We need budget flexibility and thoughtful decisions, not mandated payouts to youth programs.

On any given Tuesday, the City Council can give money to youth projects. Measure L locks up our options and makes the youth fund the only program protected by the city charter.

That’s poor fiscal stewardship of tax dollars. It doesn’t address constituent concerns. And it sets a terrible precedent for any special interest group looking to protect its funding.

Uncertain economic times, inflation, falling incomes and a looming recession mean this is the worst possible time to pass Measure L.

As voters already said twice, there’s never a good time for it.

Jeff Harris is Sacramento City Council member for District 3. He can be reached at (916) 808-7003 or

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