You’ve been hearing it on the radio, and perhaps you vaguely recall voting for the Mental Health Services Act (2004’s Proposition 63), but maybe all the budget mayhem going down in Sacramento makes all this rather confusing. So here’s the skinny: The MHSA is a special tax levied on the wealthiest Californians that provides funding for county-level mental health programs. Proposition 1E would reallocate somewhere between a quarter and a third of the money used for these programs to the state’s “general fund”—that section of the budget which our elected officials can allocate as they like.
Opponents of Proposition 1E make a lot of good points:
It Cuts Services to Those Who Need Them: In a time of social crisis, we need to provide our communities with more support, not less. MHSA funds have provided healthcare for over 200,000 people. This number will necessarily be reduced by Proposition 1E reductions.
The First Cut is the Deepest: There has already been discussion on the state level of moving all MHSA money to the general fund. Given that political will, we need to be careful not to set a bad precedent. If this recession continues, and our politicians continue to value other expenditures over social services, we will most likely see proposals of further cuts to core mental health and other poor people’s services.
It’s Unnecessary: MHSA funds amount to less than a quarter of a percent of the state budget. The potential impacts in other budget sectors of the loss of services could well amount to more than this.
There’s No Accountability: While the MHSA had strict auditing and accountability requirements, Proposition 1E will move hundreds of millions of dollars to a legislature that can spend without any special recession-period restrictions.
None of us benefits from living in a state that can’t balance its books: We need a sane state budget. But we cannot ask our society’s most vulnerable members to bear the burden of our legislators’ profligacy. For this reason, the Coalition on Homelessness and the Street Sheet join with organizations across California in asking you to vote against Proposition 1E, and to thereby save mental health services for the people who this recession is hitting the hardest.
Most arguments made in this article come from the California Council of Community Health Organizations, but factual claims have been checked against existing and proposed law.