As the nation focuses on the new presidential administration, a small but potentially transformative trend is emerging in choices down the ballot: Voters were asked to support the children in their community with new tax revenue and they overwhelmingly agreed.
In small counties and large, on both coasts and the midwest, voters stepped up to the plate to take care of kids—voting to increase their own taxes in order to support services for children and young people. In Jackson County, Missouri, for example, 62 percent of voters opted to increase the sales tax to pay for services for vulnerable children. Twelve out of 15 ballot questions were approved in places as diverse as Baltimore, Maryland, Muskingum County, Ohio, and Boulder, Colorado, using set-asides, new taxes, renewals of existing taxes or soda taxes.
Bruce Katz at the Brookings Institution says we are on the verge of a “new American localism,” where creative and collaborative local solutions are the norm and voters—the same ones who vehemently disagree on the direction we should go federally—can come together and agree that the vulnerable children in their community should be safe, healthy, connected and educated.
This is not a new trend: some 25 communities across the U.S. have already passed referendums to generate new tax revenue to support children’s programs and services—but it is a strategy that has more resonance in light of trends at the federal level. It is unlikely that we’ll see new federal or state dollars going to support children’s needs, which means city and county leaders will need to articulate a vision for how children thrive, and how to pay for what we know works.
Some advocates worry that the window of opportunity could close as more causes seek to use a local-change strategy, potentially crowding the ballot. It’s worth noting that children and youth are by far the most popular ballot items, with consistently better vote tallies than other issues.
Tuesday’s results add to the growing evidence that taking the political risk to put new tax measures on the ballot is a smart move for local elected officials.
They also indicated that the time is right to build momentum for a new, proactive and locally-driven approach to funding much-needed services for children and youth. Communities can do that by following a process that builds on the collective impact movement and brings together all the stakeholders—government, business, local nonprofits and community members—to (1) map existing funding, (2) set shared goals and align existing resources, (3) generate new funding when needed, and (4) evaluate the effectiveness of our investments.
Working together, we can build a nation where opportunity is a reality for all, and every child has what he or she needs to grow up healthy, connected and thriving. The fact that voters are willing to pay for what they feel must be done should energize us.
Learn more about Creating Local Public Dedicated Funding Streams in this webinar.
To find out more about this growing local movement, contact Elizabeth Gaines, senior fellow, Forum for Youth Investment at Elizabeth@forumfyi.org .