More Free Stuff

Written by: 
Aubrey Freedman

Supervisor Jane Kim is at it again. Not content to rest on the laurel of her “victory” of making San Francisco City College tuition-free by introducing last year’s successful ballot measure W (dubbed the Mansion Tax), she’s found another way to make San Francisco more “affordable.” She recently asked the city controller to analyze the costs of providing universal childcare in San Francisco, and she plans to introduce a ballot measure for the November 2018 election that will offer “affordable” childcare for all. Kim wants a system that would reduce childcare costs for San Francisco families to just 10% of their income. According to the Children’s Council San Francisco, a beneficiary of the largesse, the average cost of full-time childcare for families with an infant in San Francisco ranges from $16,800 to $22,800 per year, and for 4-year-olds, the range is $14,400 to $18,000. San Francisco’s current universal preschool program is not truly universal—yet. While funding covers 100% of the tuition for low-income children, middle and upper income families get only 25% off the cost of childcare. Grandstanding for the proposed measure, Kim said, “If we truly believe that families are the backbone of our city, then we all have to do what we can to hold onto them. We can do better, and we have to.”

The City’s involvement in the childcare business goes way back to 1991 when San Francisco voters approved the creation of the Children’s Fund, which was funded by a property tax set-aside of 3 cents per $100 of assessed property value. This fund provided services for some childcare programs, as well as health services, job training, social services, and delinquency prevention programs. In 2004, The City’s voters approved the creation of the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF), which allocated one-third of the set-aside to the Preschool For All (PFA) program for 4-year-olds. The City went deeper into the childcare business in 2014 with the passing of Prop C, which increased the set-aside to 4 cents per $100 of assessed property value, extended the set-aside to 2041, and extended the age group for “children” up to age 24. (The LPSF was the official opponent to Prop C and also the only voice raised against it.) Notably Prop C extended funding for universal preschool to include 3 to 5-year-olds, but gave priority to 4-year-olds, and The City could now use the funding for programs for children from birth to 3 years old. The proponents’ argument signed by the Mayor and every member of the Board of Supervisors said, “We can’t stop now. We need to do everything we can to provide high quality education and enrichment opportunities for all of our children and youth, make San Francisco livable for our families, and ensure that those with the most need are given the best opportunities to thrive.”

Indeed, they can’t stop now. As the premise has already been touted and widely accepted that those little creatures now belong to society as they are our children, why should the parents be the ones responsible for providing for the children’s needs? As Supervisor Norman Yee, also a cosponsor of the measure, pointed out, “Whether the child is a 4-year-old or a 3-year-old or a 1-year-old, it doesn’t really matter.” Once a nice-sounding idea creeps in, all the statists need is a tiny little opening to get started, and the idea comes to fruition in stages. First the Children’s Fund, then PEEF, then PFA, and now finally “affordable” childcare for all. If “affordable” childcare turns into anything like “affordable” housing, then it will definitely be time for The City’s residents to hide their checkbooks from the government.

Then there’s the unpleasant business of how to pay for these freebies. Since The City can’t print money out of thin air like the federal government, it will have to take it from someone. Supervisor Kim hasn’t identified a firm “revenue stream” (tax) for her proposal yet. She has said that it may be modeled after an Alameda County ballot measure being prepared for the June 2018 election which is asking the voters to approve yet another sales tax increase. Amazingly, San Francisco voters have rejected the last two sales tax ballot measures, so it will be interesting to see how Kim’s measure fares if it involves a sales tax increase. There surely will be a major “outreach” (propaganda) campaign to “Save The Children” or a catchy slogan with the word “Children” in it and in the ballot measure’s title to prey on the voters’ emotions.

If this measure makes it to the ballot box, you can be sure the LPSF will be opposing it. In the first place, one of the main reasons childcare is so expensive is the oppressive list of regulations and licensing requirements governing setting up and maintaining a childcare center. That alone deters many potential childcare providers from even attempting the costly and frustrating process, which then limits the supply and pushes costs upwards. The list of regulations includes such requirements as “Must have 35 square feet of indoor space and 75 square feet of outdoor space per child,” “Hot water must be kept between 105 degrees and 120 degrees,” and “Signs must be posted at the entrance of the childcare center that provide the telephone number of the local health department and information on child passenger restraint systems.” More important, since when is it the proper role of government to provide any childcare at all? Who is responsible for the welfare of each child—the government or the parents? Who cares about the child more—the government or the parents? Due to the wide availability of contraceptives these days—they even distribute them to middle schoolers in government schools—is there any good reason for the parents not to assume the full cost of providing for their children which they chose to have? Did they not know that childcare would be one of the major costs of choosing to have children? If they chose to reproduce, why should their neighbors be forced to help pay for their childcare costs? In the end, does providing yet another free ride encourage personal responsibility or the forced generosity of others?