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Brown budget faces lawsuit over children’s programs in first legal challenge

April 5, 2011 |  1:11 pm

A group of local agencies are suing Gov. Jerry Brown over legislation he signed to shift nearly $1 billion from early childhood programs to close the state’s budget deficit.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, marks the first legal challenge to Brown’s budget plan.

California voters approved a tax on tobacco products in 1998 to fund development programs for children younger than 5. Brown recently signed legislation to shift $950 million from local agencies that run those programs to children’s health services.

“Shame on Sacramento for trying to steal from our children’s trust fund,” said Susan Anderson, the chair of the county commission in Fresno, in a written statement.

Fresno is one of the three county commissions –- the others are Madera and Merced –- to sue arguing the shift contradicts voters’ intent.

The tobacco tax measure, Proposition 10, can be amended by legislators as long as the changes further its purpose. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs contend the funding shift doesn't qualify.

Elizabeth Ashford, a Brown spokeswoman, said shifting the money has been done “to keep children on healthcare."

"We feel that, given the budget situation, this is the most appropriate thing and the best thing for kids,” she said.

 -- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento