Newspapers Examine Debate Over Several Tax Proposals on November Ballot To Fund Health Care Initiatives
Proposals for new taxes to fund mental health and emergency department services that might appear on the Nov. 2 ballot are being promoted by advocates who are "frustrated" with state lawmakers' actions on the issues, the Los Angeles Times reports. The proposals include a tax on millionaires to pay for expanded mental health services and a surcharge on telephone bills to support ED services (Halper, Los Angeles Times 3/29). The Mental Health Services Act proposes adding a 1% surcharge on personal income over $1 million, generating between $600 million and $700 million per year; the tax would be used to pay for mental health programs that include prevention, education, early intervention and training (California Healthline, 3/22). According to the Times, a recent poll showed that 68% of voters would support a tax on millionaires to pay for mental health programs. However, opponents say such a tax would encourage high-income residents to leave California. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said, "Why punish our most innovative and entrepreneurial citizens? They can just move out of state" (Los Angeles Times, 3/29). Assembly member Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), chief sponsor of the mental health tax, said, "This is an issue that crosses class boundaries, ethnic, and racial boundaries." He added, "The people who have been making $1 million or more a year aren't going to be hurt."
The initiative to add a 3% surcharge to telephone bills would generate $550 million to fund ED services, the Los Angeles Daily News reports. Kelly Hayes-Raitt, a consumer advocate with the Coalition to Preserve Emergency Care, said the initiative "looks at the emergency care system from beginning to end." She added, "From the moment you pick up the phone and call 911, the initiative will make sure that call will go through in a timely way, make sure somebody is trained and able to help you to respond to that call. They will get you to the emergency room and make sure somebody is there to help you deal with your emergency" (Sheppard, Los Angeles Daily News, 3/28). Opponents of the tax say the money raised would boost hospital profits instead of helping low-income state residents obtain care.
Critics of both ballot initiatives say money raised "at the ballot box" would be allocated on the basis of which groups can raise enough money for a successful campaign, not on need. Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said "The public doesn't like tax increases on the ballot just to line the pockets of special interests." However, Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California said, "Groups are looking for creative ways to match taxes that would not be viewed as particularly burdensome with attractive services." Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has indicated that he will not take a position on the ballot initiatives until they are certified, but spokesperson Margita Thompson said, "The governor ran against taxes and thinks new taxes would hurt the state economy" (Los Angeles Times, 3/29).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.