Voters Will Support Mental Health Funding: California Offers Lessons

Proposition 13, passed in California in 1978, restricted increases in property taxes and required that all state tax increases be approved by a two-thirds vote of the state legislature. Because of the difficulty of securing that vote, advocates for various causes  turned to the use of propositions or “ballot-box budgeting” to raise revenue.  Most of those efforts were unsuccessful, but advocates succeeded in getting a measure passed that imposed a 1 percent tax for mental health services on people earning more than #1 million a year.  

Psychiatric News published a series of articles describing the campaign.  They contain lessons for advocacy in the future.

Click here to read “Complex Strategy Leads to Success of MH Initiative.”  Among the findings: Focus groups and polling revealed a strong positive response to the question: “Have you or someone you know suffered from a serious mental illness?”  The phrase “Everyone knows someone with mental illness” became a key theme of the campaign.

Click here to read “Lawmaker’s Crusade Boosts MH Funding.”  Darrel Steinberg traveled the state and found that residents could see the link between the emptying of mental hospitals and the rise of homelessness.

Click here to read “California Voters Say Rich Should Help Fund MH Care.”  Among the conclusions of a polling and analysis firm:

(1)[The] “severely mentally ill evoke the most sympathy and compassion from voters…. Even more cynical voters who doubted the measure’s means, merits, and objectives did not question the need to provide seriously emotionally disturbed children with [treatment]….”

(2) Voters want a proven model.   The new effort was modeled on California AB 34, a pilot program approved in 1999 that funds services to mentally ill adults who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless or incarcerated.

Following are excerpts from the article.

The Campaign for Mental Health formed a broad coalition of organizations that together represent a number of different constituencies. In addition to state and national medical and mental health associations, the CMH includes six major California unions and organizations such as the California Teachers Association, AARP-California, and the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA).

CPCA President Cam Sanchez wrote in a letter to the San Diego Union-Tribune, “Police chiefs like me face an awful reality: 20 percent of our officers’ time is spent dealing with untreated mental illness. Too often, we must take people with mental illness to jail, not because they have done anything wrong, but because there is nowhere else to go…. Proposition 63 will finally make mental health care a priority and free law enforcement to spend more of their time and resources on public safety rather than our failed mental health system.”

City councils in Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Barbara, and Santa Monica supported the initiative, as did the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The CMH gathered more than 600,000 signatures, nearly double the number required to qualify the initiative for the ballot.  Sympathetic stories in major newspapers portrayed the impact of the failed mental health system and described lives that had been reclaimed by treatment.

Click here to read “Advocates Hope Tax on Wealthy Can Fund MH Services.”

 

 

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