Mental Health Initiative Gathers Enough Signatures for November Ballot, Supporters Say
Assembly member Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and others on Friday announced that they have collected and submitted 643,950 voter signatures -- 270,134 more than needed -- to qualify for the Nov. 2 ballot an initiative that would raise the tax on state residents who earn more than $1 million annually to create "the most extensive mental health system in state history," the Sacramento Bee reports (Sanders, Sacramento Bee, 3/20). If passed, the Mental Health Services Act would add an additional 1% to the state income tax on every dollar of income that exceeds $1 million, raising the current state income tax rate on that income from 9.3% to 10.3% (Reang, San Jose Mercury News, 3/20). The tax, which would generate between $600 million and $700 million per year, would be used to pay for mental health programs that include prevention, education, early intervention and training, the Bee reports. The tax also would be used to create a state Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission. The signatures still must be verified by county election officials (Sacramento Bee, 3/20).
Supporters said that the initiative could save the state millions of dollars because mental health programs will help keep the homeless, many of whom have mental illnesses, and other people with mental illnesses out of hospitals and prisons, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Steinberg said that statewide there 50,000 homeless people with mental illnesses. He added that the program also would help other state residents with mental illnesses. "There has been so much positive recent success in the field of mental health in California that for the state to cut back and to break the promises again, it would be a tragedy," Dave Fratello, head of the Campaign for Mental Health, said, adding, "This initiative says we're going to move ahead and help a lot more people" (Geldhill, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/20). "We're hopeful that people will see this initiative for what it is -- a chance to help hundreds of thousands of people who have been waiting a long time," Steinberg said.
Lew Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, called the initiative "absurd and shortsighted" because such a tax would hurt the state budget by causing people who earn more than $1 million per year to move out of the state and spend their money elsewhere, the Bee reports (Sacramento Bee, 3/20). Larry McCarthy, president of the California Taxpayers Association, said that the initiative "sends a message that California really doesn't want to encourage people who have wealth to be here" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/20). Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, said, "My immediate reaction would be, 'Great cause. Poor funding approach,'" adding, "If something is important to all Californians, the investment should come from all Californians" (San Jose Mercury News, 3/20). According to State Franchise Tax Board records, 29,299 of California's 14 million taxpayers earned more than $1 million in 2001. Collectively, this group pays about $7.9 billion in income taxes, more than 25% of all income taxes collected statewide. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has not taken a position on the initiative and probably will not until he knows which other initiatives have qualified for the November ballot, the Bee reports (Sacramento Bee, 3/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.