New State Report Busts Proposition 63

Lloyd Billingsley
Policy Fellow with the Independent Institute (Independent.org) based in Oakland, CA

Promises Still to Keep: A Decade of the Mental Health Services Act, a new report by the Little Hoover Commission, notes that Proposition 63 raised a whopping $13.2 billion. But according to the report, the state is unable to document whether the $13.2 billion fulfilled any of the Act’s proclaimed intentions.

According to sponsor Senator Darrell Steinberg and other backers, the Mental Health Services Act would keep people off the street, out of the hospital, out of jail, and even help people “make the move from tax user to taxpayer.” But as Little Hoover Commission chairman Pedro Nava explained, it is “difficult, if not impossible, to analyze the measure’s effect.” This is not a new revelation.

Proposition 63 slapped a one-percent tax on millionaires to fund mental health services. By 2013, when Darrell Steinberg was still Senate boss, it had brought in $8 billion, but California’s state auditor could not account for how the money was spent.

The San Jose Mercury News found that the state had fewer psychiatric hospital beds, fewer doctors treating patients, fewer clinics across the state, and that in the previous year 750,000 Californians had failed to receive mental health treatment they needed. So the case was strong that mental health services had actually declined.

The Sacramento Bee wondered if the money had been “shoved down a rat hole.” The Bee flagged “questionable” uses of the money “such as yoga, horseback riding, gardening, the purchase of iPads, and a slick public relations video that is being passed off as a serious documentary about stigma.”

On the taxing and spending level, the Mental Health Services Act is certainly a success. On the other hand, the Little Hoover Commission report confirms that in terms of results and accountability, Proposition 63 is $13.2 billion bust. And Promises Still to Keep emerges when Darrell Steinberg is conveniently out of office after a troubled career.

On Steinberg’s watch, three Senators faced corruption charges and nepotism prevailed. In 2012, Steinberg killed a live California Channel broadcast of hearings on several ballot measures dealing with taxes. When this censorship came to light, Steinberg claimed, “I pride myself on being open and transparent.”

At present, the former Senate boss is now priding himself on a new position.

As his hometown Sacramento Bee reports, Steinberg will become director of policy and advocacy for the new UC Davis Behavioral Health Center of Excellence, a $7.5 million center funded by Proposition 63, “a measure he championed while in the legislature.” His position is unpaid but the Bee reports that Steinberg, a lawyer, will be a “visiting professor at Davis’ Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.”

Meanwhile, his Proposition 63, which Steinberg touted as a model for the nation, is not the only initiative to spend billions and promise more than it can deliver.

Proposition 71, the 2004 stem-cell initiative, promised life-saving cures and therapies. The measure created an institute that has spent some $3 billion, but a ballpark figure for the number of life-saving cures and therapies is zero.

Propositions 63 and 71 came wrapped in the white coat of medical science. More initiatives like that are certain to appear, but based on the results so far, Californians would have to be crazy to vote for them.

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