Prop 1E would shift mental health funding

May 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Five years ago California voters decided to dedicate tax money to fund mental health programs. A proposition added a 1 percent tax on personal incomes that were over $1 million. Next Tuesday, voters will be asked to redirect that funding to help the state recover from its budget crisis.

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Prop 1E shuffles money from one set of mental health programs to another. It takes $225 million a year from programs that are paid for now and uses that money to help balance the budget by paying for other mental health services that have to be paid from the state's cash strapped general fund.

Friday was the monthly birthday party at the Bonita Host, a homeless and mental health program aimed at helping some of Oakland's most down and out.

"This program really works, it's a program that helps formally homeless individuals who are living with mental illness get into housing and receive much needed mental health services," Bonita Host program manager Mark Shotwell said.

The program is funded though the Mental Health Service Act that voters approved in 2004, an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest Californians provides between $900 million and $1.5 billion a year.

Prop 1E would redirect some of that that funding and put it into mental health screening and treatment for children and young adults. Shotwell is against it.

"You know, we fought way to hard in California to turn the tide from mental health programs being really underfunded for many, many years," Shotwell said.

Shotwell says he does not trust politicians in Sacramento.

Supporters of Prop 1E include Willie Brown, former assembly speaker and former mayor of San Francisco.

"These people who are raising issues trying to protect their own turf are wrong, they ought to be prepared to be in the mix," Brown said.

Brown says the Bonita Host program in Oakland or any other ought to be willing to argue their case along with everyone else in competition for scarce resources.

"I can assure you that if it's overwhelming, in terms of that argument, politicians will respond positively," Brown said.

But Shotwell says lawmakers in Sacramento have turned their back on programs like his too many times.

"Unfortunately, until the Mental Health Service Act the kind of funding for these kinds of programs wasn't secure and it was often taken for other things so it's hard to trust that," Shotwell said.

Never the less, says Brown, in this economic crisis, everyone should be in the same boat.

"All items must be on the table, no matter how much merit they currently have," Brown said.

ABC7 asked Brown about proposals to raise taxes on oil production and liquor sales to help get California out of the budget crisis. Those proposals were defeated and Brown said he did not begrudge anyone trying to keep from paying more taxes. Hanging on to what they have is also what the opponents of Prop 1E are trying to do.

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