Child’s Play Measure Q would have helped fund solutions to early childcare, but failed; supporters regroup, while opponents reiterate: it’s too vague


By Marielle Argueza

At first glance, it may look like the state of California is showing strong investments that address a lack of affordable childcare options. In the 2022-2023 budget, the state budgeted $12 billion for preschool and childcare for little ones, up $4.2 billion from last fiscal year. Most of the funds were raised by Prop. 98. But some of the money comes from one-time funding sources. 

Proponents of Measure Q, the parcel tax that failed at the polls in November, say it’s not enough to resolve all the local issues in the childcare industry. Two major issues are space and affordability. Local officials say there are only 9,200 available slots for about 36,000 children under the age of 5 in Monterey County. That leaves approximately 75% of young children without access to childcare. 

On top of that, the average cost of childcare in Monterey County costs parents and guardians about $10,000 per year. Only 19% of Monterey County families can afford early care and education services for one child, while only 10% of families can afford it for two children, according to research from the Yes on Q campaign. 

Measure Q was a citizen’s initiative, a $49 annual parcel tax that would have raised an estimated $5.5 million over 10 years  to address the county’s complex early childcare needs. 

Though the measure wouldn’t raise nearly enough money to be the only financial solution to the county’s early childcare problems, it would have given the county a little more leverage to stretch the funding it receives from state and federal sources. 

In the lead-up to the measure, politicians, school boards, major industry associations and other community organizations vocalized their support for the parcel tax. The measure needed a simple majority to pass. Despite the institutional support, the measure failed with approximately 60% of voters opposed, according to the final results. 

Voters’ minds were not black and white on funding measures that would directly impact local kids. Unlike the county as a whole, precincts, especially those in Salinas, were largely in favor of bonds that would improve their neighborhood schools and (by extension) childcare facilities. Salinas City Elementary School District had both Measures G and H approved with approximately 60% of the vote. Voters in the Santa Rita Union School District also voted yes on Measure R, at similar approval rates. 

There are some distinct differences on why voters throughout the county voted no on Q, while hyper-local measures seemed to win with overwhelming support. Measures G, H and R were  all bonds to raise money for neighborhood school facilities. Money would stay within their communities and voters would see something tangible, like new schools and classrooms, in their own neighborhoods.

Although Measure Q’s language made room for flexibility in spending, which could well have gone to building childcare facilities, it also included language that does not translate into something as tangible, like expanding the hours of existing childcare facilities, training or certifying new and an informal childcare workforce, and other background administrative costs. 

'It’s hard for people to visualize how our investment in childcare is related to an educated workforce and our future' Simon Salinas, Measure Q supporter

‘It’s hard to pass a tax,” said Simon Salinas, a supporter of the failed measure. “It’s hard for people to visualize how our investment in childcare is related to an educated workforce and our future.” In other words, it’s hard to explain something so abstract to so many people.

Salinas is a retired state Assembly member who also served on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and the Salinas City Council.

Using an example from the past, Salinas pointed to Measure X, a proposition the Transportation Agency of Monterey County passed in 2016 — after attempting several times to convince the voters to support this type of measure. Measure X was a three-eighths percent sales tax increase to improve road conditions. “It took a long time to convince voters, but now at every pothole being fixed or bridge repaired, there are signs that say ‘your tax dollars at work,’ to make it very clear to people their money is being put to good use.”

Everyday economic hardship was probably another factor working against proponents of Measure X, Salinas added. “The other part is, timing is everything,” he said. “A lot of voters probably looked at their 401Ks and probably said ‘meh, this doesn’t look like a good idea. I just lost so much money.’ You can see it in the ways people voted for all the state props on this year’s ballot.”. 

Other than being against most new taxes, the measure’s primary opponent Seaside Taxpayers Association, (which also submitted the official counter-argument against the measure) the lack of specificity and those excluded from the tax were a huge issue. 

'No one can truly know the mind of the voter. But we are living in extraordinary times' Lawrence Samuels, Measure Q opponent

‘The authors were not clear in their vision so ultimately Measure Q failed to answer the big question: Exactly what would be done with the money?” Lawrence Samuels, chair of the Seaside Tax Association wrote in a statement. It was also unclear to opponents why Measure Q raised the issue of childcare costs when enrollment in local schools has been steadily declining, with some school districts even closing campuses, he said.

But a major sticking point was who would be exempt. Measure Q would exempt parcel owners like veterans, but also, as Samuels pointed out, the most lucrative local industry in the county: agriculture.

Salinas explains the exemption was two-fold: the coalition behind Measure Q needed widespread support. The agricultural industry, though a would-be major beneficiary, is taxed in other ways — like in massive payroll taxes as the county’s biggest employer — that other taxpayers are not. 

But Samuels notes the tax affects everyone equally, whether they are lower or higher income, or have more valuable or less valuable parcels. In its official argument against Measure Q, submitted to Monterey County Elections, the Seaside Taxpayers Association stated that “No matter how little or how much a parcel is worth, the tax would be the same, except for those who would be exempt …Even wealthier people, who tend to own more-valuable property, their tax would be the same as the tax for poorer people who own less-valuable property.” 

Samuels doesn’t deny there is an affordable childcare problem. Of the alternative solutions, he suggests childcare vouchers for lower-income families (something California already does in some capacity), higher wages for workers (especially in agriculture and hospitality), and “deregulation” of the childcare industry so prices would be driven down. 

The results of the votes surprised Samuels. “No one can truly know the mind of the voter,” he said. “But we are living in extraordinary times. Inflation was an undeniable factor. Perhaps voters voted no because they are still feeling very financially stressed. Gas prices and food costs are at an all-time high. The resources of low and middle-income families are stretched very thin. Even another small tax is a burden.” 

But Salinas said he is hopeful that the issue can still be addressed, not just on another ballot but in Sacramento. “Legislation is also an important component.” 

Measure Q supporters also remain hopeful that 2024 will bring a renewed sense of enthusiasm to the polls. “You’re just going to have lower voter turnout in a non-presidential election year,” Salinas said. “We were surprised about the outcome,” he said. “But we are going to keep this issue alive. It’s urgent.”

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Marielle Argueza

About Marielle Argueza

Marielle Argueza is a reporter based on the Central Coast. She covers education, immigration and culture.