Proposition 1, on California’s March ballot, proposes a $6.38 billion bond offering aimed at addressing homelessness and the mental health crisis. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
There is only one statewide ballot measure before California primary voters this year, a measure aimed at increasing mental and behavioral health services, particularly for the state’s homeless population.
For Proposition 1, voters were asked whether to approve nearly $6.4 billion in bonds for mental health or substance abuse treatment facilities.
This is not a new tax; The measure would transfer about $140 million in existing tax revenue from counties to the state for mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, according to a summary from the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Since 2005, California has levied a tax on people making more than $1 million and spent the money ($2 billion to $3.5 billion annually) on mental health services. Under the bill, called the Mental Health Services Act, 95 percent of the money goes directly to counties for certain types of services.
If Proposition 1 succeeds in the primary, the state will receive more funding (about a 5 percent increase) and must spend some to increase the number of mental health care staff and drug and alcohol prevention efforts in the state, according to Lao . Counties will be required to invest more in housing and personalized support services.
If approved, the measure is expected to create 4,350 housing units (half of which are dedicated to veterans) and 6,800 spaces for mental health services, as well as about 26,700 outpatient treatment slots, according to the California Budget and Policy Center.
The state must repay $310 million in bonds annually over 30 years—a figure that may be unacceptable when the state is already grappling with a nearly $38 billion budget deficit.
Arguments for Proposal 1
The governor’s office called it “refocusing billions of dollars in existing funding to prioritize Californians with the greatest mental health needs, living in encampments or suffering the most severe substance use problems.”
The goal, supporters say, is to emphasize the integration of housing and mental health care.
“These reforms, along with new investments in behavioral health housing, will help California deliver on the promises it made decades ago,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “We see signs every day that our system is broken – too many Californians living with mental health needs or substance use disorders are not getting the support or care they need.”
Supporters say the measure would expand community-based services that would help an estimated tens of thousands of residents each year and prioritize treatment over incarceration for those who are struggling.
Supporters also said the measure would earmark $1 billion for veterans experiencing homelessness, substance abuse issues or mental health issues.
“When you see people on the street, they’re covered in urine or feces, they’re dirty, they’re pacing, they’re talking to each other or screaming… what you’re witnessing is human pain and suffering ,” Brian Rice of the California Professional Firefighters Association said at a recent rally in support of Proposition 1 in Los Angeles.
“We can’t continue to do this,” Rice said.
Other backers of the measure include California’s National Alliance on Mental Illness, the California Chamber of Commerce and the Orange County Police and Sheriff’s Union.
A December survey found that 68% of likely voters said they would support Proposition 1, while 30% opposed it and 2% were undecided. The Public Policy Institute of California poll found the measure is more popular among registered Democrats: 85% of Democrats said they would vote for it, along with 40% of Republicans and 66% of independents. Will vote yes.
Arguments against Proposal 1
Those opposed to the ballot measure argue it reallocates funds to other mental health services provided by counties, such as crisis response and outreach efforts. According to the League of Women Voters, the measure could ultimately hinder “counties’ ability to set priorities based on local mental health service needs.”
There are also concerns that the measure could exacerbate forced treatment (among other conditions) and reduce critical services MHSA provides to historically underserved communities, such as LGBTQ+ or communities of color, according to the Budget and Policy Center.
“Any variances that might allow counties to spend more or less on specific categories would increase their administrative costs and would not eliminate their lack of flexibility in meeting specific needs,” the League of Women Voters said.
Some mental health groups argued in their arguments against the measure that the provisions would not provide long-term housing or solutions for homeless Californians.
“Two-thirds of the funding is for treatment beds that are time-limited and potentially ‘locked,’ rather than permanent housing. When people stop treatment, they go back to the streets, still disabled, unable to work, and once again without housing,” said Heidi Strunk, CEO of Mental Health America California and Andrea Wagner, executive director of California Mental Health Peers.
The League of Women Voters also claimed that the measure was rushed through the legislative process last year, meaning debate from community organizations and civil rights advocates was stifled. The group believes budget decisions should be made by the Legislature, not by vote.
Sen. Diane Dickson, R-Newport Beach, and Sen. Brian Jones, R-San Diego, also opposed the measure.