Thursday, October 25, 2012

Will California’s next proposed tax increase work any better than the last?

Before deciding whether to support or oppose Proposition 30, California voters should take a close look at what happened with the last tax on millionaires they approved. In 2004, Californians altruistically passed Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), a 1% tax on millionaires to improve services for people with serious mental illness Yet in spite of the $8 billion raised many are still homeless, psychotic, eating out of dumpsters and screaming at voices only they can hear. Programs that can help, like Laura’s Law, remain unimplemented. The number of homeless mentally ill increased.
What happened?
Mental health officials accepted the voter’s mental health money, but not their requirement to spend it on the most seriously ill.
The State Auditor is investigating MHSA waste reported on by the Associate Press, including money going to help Hmong garden, kids read better, student athletes improve their abilities, and the unemployed become employed. Millions were diverted to consultants, meetings, PR agencies, Facebook pages and everything except delivering real services to real people with serious mental illness.
The Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission which is supposed to prevent the diversion of funds claims these expenditures help people ‘at risk’ of mental health problems. But the voters specifically limited Proposition 63 to the 5-9% of individuals ‘with serious mental illness’, not the 100% who can have their mental health improved. Rusty Selix, a lobbyist for the California mental health industry said it best, “And they (the public) didn't want (Proposition 63) to fund all mental health, only people that had severe mental illness.” But that is not what is happening.
The oversight commission had responsibility for reviewing 20% of Proposition 63 expenditures to ensure they serve the seriously mentally ill voters wanted to help. Instead, they encouraged counties to support programs that “target the general public” rather than people with mental illness. Brochures, public service announcements, and websites for the public were well funded while services for the mentally ill go unfunded. Three million of taxpayer money meant to help people with mental illness went to the Entertainment Industry Council. Another $11 million to a PR firm and $16 million to organizations associated with the oversight commission itself.
When Monterey County proposed using certain funds for people with mental illness, the commission wrote back: “MHSA-funded (Prevention and Early Intervention) programs cannot serve people with a mental health diagnosis…. please clarify that these programs include persons without a mental health diagnosis.”
To be clear: much of the funds raised by Proposition 63 are going to those the voters intended: people with serious mental illness. But the most seriously ill are being sent to the end of the line rather than the front. That is not what voters were told would happen. As a result of Proposition 63, California, is the only state where money isn’t the issue, leadership is.
And If California can’t make Prop 63 work as intended, why will Prop 30 will be any different?

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