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The cost of Prop. 1: Newsom's plan to transform California's mental health system

Taryn Luna, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

If approved by voters on Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom's ballot measure to overhaul the state's mental health services system and sell bonds to finance more than 10,000 treatment beds across California could cost the state up to $14 billion.

Opponents of Proposition 1 argue the price is too high.

"What California needs to do is take a step back and figure out how can we spend this money effectively," said Karen Vicari, director of public policy for the nonprofit advocacy Mental Health America of California. "We're just wasting money. We're just throwing money at a problem with no understanding of the root causes and how to truly solve homelessness."

The measure, which is on the March 5 statewide primary ballot, asks for voter approval to sell $6.4 billion in government bonds to support more treatment facilities. Bonds, which are bought by investors, act as loans that the state pays back with interest.

The California Department of Finance estimates that the Behavioral Health Infrastructure Bond within Proposition 1 will cost a total of $14 billion.

Anthony York, a spokesperson for the Yes on 1 campaign, pointed out the measure won't increase taxes on Californians. Instead, Proposition 1 provides accountability for how existing tax dollars are spent, he said.

 

"Prop. 1 will provide care for thousands of people struggling with mental health issues who are currently living on our streets and sidewalks, without raising taxes," York said in a statement. "This is precisely the kind of smart investment the state should prioritize — getting people out of encampments and into treatment."

How much will Proposition 1 cost?

That depends on whom you ask.

The official voter guide compiled by the California secretary of state quotes an estimate of $310 million annually over a 30-year period from an analysis by the Legislative Analyst's Office. The LAO analysis did not include a total cost estimate over the life of the bond, which will be determined in part based on when the bonds are sold and interest rates at that time.

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