Criticism for Arnold’s plan to cut mental health

Mental health advocates said today that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to divert almost $227 million from the Mental Health Services Fund for which California voters earmarked it just four years ago is – well, insane.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed 2009-10 budget calls for redirecting the money – raised by Proposition 63 of 2004, which enacted a 1 percent income tax on incomes of over $1 million to bankroll a Mental Health Services Fund – to instead fund the state’s Mental Health Managed Care program.

Well, it’s still going to mental health, right? That’s not the point – Schwarzenegger wants to use the money to backfill the state’s share of counties’ bill for caring for the Medi-Cal-eligible mentally ill, rather than for creation and expansion of community-based mental health programs, children’s services, preventative measures, workforce and training services and so forth for which Proposition 63 was intended. Net result: Less money for mental health.

The 54 percent of voters who approved that ballot measure “recognized the dire need to address decades of inadequate funding for mental health programs,” California Mental Health Directors Association executive director Patricia Ryan told reporters on a conference call this morning. Schwarzenegger’s proposal would roll back that progress, amounting to “a misguided attack on people living with mental illness who literally have no other option for shelter and healthcare” and causing “immediate harm to the most vulnerable in our state.”

More after the jump…

Monterey County Mental Health Director Wayne Clark, also the CMHDA Governing Board’s president, said the proposal, if enacted, would have “a disastrous effect on county mental health departments and the more than 600,000 clients we serve across the state.” Clark said his county has drastically reduced the number of patients requiring institutionalization in state hospitals or other locked institutions in recent years using Proposition 63 funds, but Schwarzenegger’s proposal threatens to turn back the clock.

John Buck, CEO of Sacramento-based Turning Point Community Programs, said his agency already is laying off experienced mental health providers and Schwarzenegger’s proposal will only worsen the situation, leading to more expensive hospitalizations, homelessness and imprisonment for the mentally ill. Former Turning Point client Frank Topping said the agency saved him from a maze of mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness: “It breaks my heart to think we may return to a system where institutionalization is not just the first choice, it’s the only choice.”

Schwarzenegger’s office insists it’s he who’s being left without much choice.

“The governor has put out seven budgets this year, and as we move along, as we have said all year, the problem gets worse and the options for solving the problem get worse every time,” spokesman Aaron McLear told me a few minutes ago. “He understands how difficult this is, but with a $42 billion deficit, there simply are no good options.”

This sort of diversion of Proposition 63’s proceeds is explicitly forbidden by the measure itself, and so Schwarzenegger’s proposal would require voter approval. Also, Proposition 63 was co-authored by then-Assemblyman and now-state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who has been calling the diversion plan a “non-starter.”

Ryan and a slew of other mental-health organization chiefs sent a letter today to Schwarzenegger, Steinberg, and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, urging them not to divert the Proposition 63 money; that trio and Republican Legislative leaders were behind closed doors again today trying to reach some sort of agreement on how to tackle the state’s enormous budget crisis. McLear wouldn’t comment on whether the Proposition 63 diversion is a subject of current talks.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Arne Simonsen

    The Schwarzenegger is right on this one. Prop 63 was a bad initiative that has furthered “ala carte” government spending, further tying the hands of the State during dire financial times like we are currently experiencing.

    In truth, the Governor and Legislature should be looking at every new or expanded program it has approved since 2000 and eliminate them.

  • Ruth4Equality

    I have suffered from acute clinical depression my entire life. I am now 63 and began seeking mental health care/help for this in my late 20s. It was a fruitless effort, what was available in the state for those without private funds was negligent psychiatrists and therapists who changed from visit to visit and did not bother to even read my file or attempt to help. The newer anti-depressants were not prescribed, only those which had generic clones. New discoveries in medications were considered too expensive.

    Prop 63 has changed all of that. Today I no longer live in the deep, black, pit of despair that overwhelmed me for 61 years. I have meds that work and a therapist who works closely with me. I also have group therapies which are extremely helpful and focused on self-help and self-awareness. To no longer just exist – but have a life I look forward to living, this is a miracle.

    Is this what you consider “ala carte” government spending? BTW – the “government” is not now in charge of this fund – prop 63 set up an organization run by professional mental health care individuals to “spend” – but the government did initiate so much red-tape that the spending in full is slow. Once a program is approved and established – it is a life-saving initiative.