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In 2004, state voters approved Proposition 63 by 54 percent to 46 percent and imposed an additional 1 percent tax on income above $1 million to fund mental health care. The main purpose of the “tax on the millionaires” was the need to strengthen the programs for children and adults provided by the governments, which have the main responsibility of taking care of the public health. Critics favored claims it would reduce interactions between police and people with mental illness and raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year to make care more accessible. Opponents – including then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – warned that this was another incomprehensible, hastily designed plan whose weaknesses will hurt taxpayers.
Eighteen years later, the critics appear to be justified. A recent survey in the Los Angeles Times showed that few stakeholders are satisfied with the results of the injection of $29 billion in Proposition 63 funds statewide since 2005. Sure, some problems were not expected – the explosion of the homelessness problem, the cost of housing increased; significant shortages in other health sectors; and that the pandemic that began in early 2020 greatly increased the mental stress of Californians. But concerns about the careless drafting of the far-reaching law were evident. Governments regularly transfer Proposition 63 funds to pay for services that were previously paid for with general funds. They usually keep the money in savings – although many have large balances when applying for aid. Former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, is right when he says it’s time to “think boldly about how we spend money on health care.”
That would require a vote to amend Proposition 63, which would face fierce opposition from constituents. But if it’s important to bring unity and transparency to the effort to improve the health of Californians, let’s move on. Millions of people need help. Let’s help.