Proposition 1E proposes to divert a portion of the funds from Prop. 63 to the state general fund.
Approved by voters in 2004, Prop. 63, also known as the Mental Health Services Act, is funded by an additional 1 percent income tax for Californians who earn more than $1 million. Prop. 63 has brought in between $900 million and $1.5 billion per year since its enactment, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). However, Rusty Selix, executive director of the Mental Health Association in California, says Prop. 63 revenues are expected to drop “dramatically” in coming years as income tax revenues plummet.
Prop. 1E would direct more than $450 billion away from Prop. 63 over the next two years, according to the LAO. This redirection is ostensibly meant to partially fund mental health services for youth Medi-Cal beneficiaries under the Early and Periodic, Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program. However, because the program is federally mandated, the state must fund it whether Prop 1E passes or not. In effect, money obtained from the passage of Prop. 1E would add at least $227 billion annually to the general fund for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 fiscal years.
Belinda Lyons, executive director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, says she worries Prop. 1E would set a precedent to “raid” funds that have been set aside for mental health to use for other purposes.
She said that to “balance the budget on the backs of poor people with mental illness … will cost [the city] more in other services,” such as emergency medical care and correctional facilities.
Several San Francisco mental health workers said that city mental health programs – publicly funded or otherwise – can’t afford cuts. Some workers didn’t know much about Prop. 1E or 2004’s Prop. 63 or even the May 19 election. But all were acutely aware that cuts to mental health funding would mean the loss of badly needed services.
“To take funding from the mental health people, that’s just not right,” said Bryan Jackson, a counselor at St. Vincent de Paul’s Ozanam Center on Howard Street, who was screening visitors wanting to enter. “They already cut enough.”
Jackson, who is also a community programs manager at SF General Hospital and UCSF, said that roughly 85 percent of people who come to the nonprofit detox facility also suffer from mental illness.
A father of five, Jackson said he wouldn’t support cutting more money from education as an alternative to taking funds from mental health, but he would be willing to pay a few more dollars in taxes.
Jackson does support cutting prison funding, which he feels has needed reform.
“They’ve got too many people in prison for stuff like this, simple drug use,” he said, gesturing toward the center’s heavy yellow doors.
Amanda Thompson has done outreach work with addicts and serves on San Francisco’s Shelter Monitoring Committee, an independent group primarily of homeless or formerly homeless members who document the quality of care at shelters and resource centers. Formerly homeless and drug-addicted, Thompson said she couldn’t imagine how she would have turned her life around without the mental health and substance abuse services available to her.
“I would probably still be out there,” said Thompson, a public service aide at the city Department of Public Health’s Behavioral Health Access Center. “When people are ready, they need somewhere to go.”
Thompson, who said she voted by mail against all the propositions, said that she’s already seeing how the bad economy is harming individuals and families.
“Right now there’s a lot more families on the streets,” she said. “It’s only going to get worse because people don’t have jobs.”
What’s painfully clear amidst the current budget crisis, however, is that cuts will continue to be made to plenty of worthy programs and services. At the moment, the main challenge for the Legislature is simply finding funds to cover the state’s shortage.
“I don’t think anyone’s jumping up and down for joy,” said Julie Soderlund, spokesperson for Budget Reform Now, which is promoting the passage of propositions 1A through 1F. “These are difficult times that call for difficult decisions.”
The reality is that the budget gap is continuing to grow, Soderlund said, and funds to fill it must come from somewhere. “There is surplus money in Prop. 63 funding,” she said. “There are funds sitting in this account that aren’t being used.”
Selix, of the Mental Health Association in California, said these are reserve funds.
“We happen to have a rainy day fund, which is exactly what the Legislature wants with 1A,” he said.
While Selix is an outspoken opponent of Prop. 1E, he isn’t entirely opposed to the use of Prop. 63 funds for other programs. His alternative to Prop. 1E: a loan.
Dollars could be loaned to the general fund from Prop. 63’s rainy day fund now, when revenues are still relatively healthy, as long as Prop.63 can anticipate reimbursement within a few years, Selix said. The major difference between this idea and Prop. 1E is that a loan must be paid back; Prop. 1E would redirect the funds permanently. The political feasibility of the loan idea is questionable, though Selix said it has been presented to legislators.
Soderlund said that Californians must make decisions on Tuesday based on the options that are in front of them.
“We’re working hard to communicate that it’s not politicians who will be hurt if these measures fail …[but] ordinary Californians,” she said.
The one measure that appears to have more impact for politicians than ordinary Californians, though, is Prop. 1F, which would bar state elected officials from being awarded raises in years when the state is running a deficit of 1 percent or more.
Prop. 1F does not make any salary cuts nor does it change language in the law regarding benefits packages for elected officials. Currently, the only ballot measure that is overwhelmingly supported by voters (more than 70 percent), Prop. 1F would have only a negligible impact on the state budget. Soderlund, whose organization supports 1F, calls the measure a “no-brainer,” saying no elected officials should earn raises when the state is running a deficit.
Supporters of 1F also say a salary freeze would provide incentive for lawmakers to work to balance the budget. Critics, however, say 1F has no practical effect, and would impact some state officials who play no part in budget decisions, such as the superintendent of public instruction. Pete Stahl, a computer programmer who has been rating California propositions since 1980, has called the measure “petty, vindictive and childish,” and said it would take far more to push California legislators, who currently make a minimum of $116,000 per year, toward compromise.
One thing is clear: Prop. 1F is serving as an easy outlet for Californians frustrated by a budget crisis for which there are no quick fixes. It could likely be the only measure that passes on Tuesday.
PROPOSITION 1E – MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FUNDING. TEMPORARY REALLOCATION. HELPS BALANCE STATE BUDGET.
ELECTED OFFICIALS’ SALARIES. PREVENTS PAY INCREASES DURING BUDGET DEFICIT YEARS.
Reach the reporter at ltomei[at]public-press.org.