Sacramento Judge Rules That State Must Pay for Mental Health Program
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Gunther this month ruled that San Diego County has the right to refuse to pay for a state-mandated mental health program for schoolchildren, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The ruling will require the state to pay for the program because federal law prevents the state from eliminating the program, according to the Union-Tribune. Gunther ruled that state lawmakers violated the state constitution by ordering the county to establish a program without providing sufficient funds to operate it. Attorneys for the state had argued that the county failed to meet the statute of limitations for complaints related to fiscal year 2003 (Vigil, San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/10). The ruling settles one of two suits the county filed in February against the state concerning state-mandated but unfunded services. The other lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, asks that the state be required to reimburse the county $31 million that it has spent to provide required social services (California Healthline, 2/3). That suit is still pending (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/10). County Counsel John Sansone said that the provision of mental health services for about 2,400 special education students is the most expensive mandate for the county (California Healthline, 2/3). The county estimates that the program costs as much as $10 million a year. The state had allocated a total of $1,000 statewide for the mental health program during each of the last two years.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) said the office would review the decision before deciding its next course of action. According to Sansone, "The Board of Supervisors simply ran out of patience with the state's lack of responsibility to pay its constitutionally required payments." Sansone added that other counties may file similar lawsuits and seek to require the state to pay for unfunded programs, although the counties must file separate suits for each program (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/10).
The ruling represents a "small victory in the protracted battle between local governments and Sacramento," but the state probably will appeal the decision because it "cannot afford to let stand this altogether rational challenge to its arbitrary authority," a Union-Tribune editorial states. The "miserly" state funding for a $130 million mental health program "is typical of the way Sacramento dodges its responsibilities to local governments," the editorial states. The editorial concludes that if other counties were as persistent as San Diego in battling the state's unfunded mandates, "Sacramento might stop its fiscal shell game" (San Diego Union Tribune, 7/15).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.