Don’t go crazy or anything, but the state of California has spent $13 billion over the last 10 years in order to help the mentally ill and doesn’t really have anything to show for it – on paper that is.
A state watchdog commission concluded Tuesday that state and county officials are unable to show how the billions of dollars that have been collected as a result of a voter-approved millionaires tax have been spent over the last ten years, nor how they are being spent even now. No evidence outside anecdotal conversations has been documented illustrating just how the money has gone to support mental illness, as it was intended. That does not mean the money is not being used for its intended purposes necessarily, only that the means for tracking and documenting it needs to be improved.
The shockingly surprising news, for those unfamiliar with how bureaucracy works, comes with the latest release of the Little Hoover Commission report, which reviewed Proposition 63 and found a paltry amount of evidence that the $13 billion spent so far has been used even remotely effectively. Of course, a little research on the Little Hoover Commission, formerly known as the Milton Marks “Little Hoover” Commission, can tell you how much stock you should put into that perspective.
The Associated Press launched its own investigation into the matter back in 2012 and found tens of millions of dollars accumulated through the tax ended up going to wellness programs for those who had never really been diagnosed with mental illness. But it did help so many people in desperate need of yoga, gardening, art classes and horseback riding. One year later, a state auditor reported about the same findings.
Of course, seriously though, all of those activities can be quite relaxing and therapeutic, so there is at least that aspect present, but very little to do with mental illness of a more serious or pervasive nature beyond everyday stress and anxiety has been documented according to CBS Local SF Bay Area.
The Little Hoover commissioners wrote in their report:
After 10 years the state still can’t document whether $13 billion raised through the act has improved the streets of California and the lives of its residents.
Proposition 63 came about in 2004 as a ballot initiative when voters approved a 1 percent tax on incomes totaling more than $1 million. The money was intended to raise revenue for helping the mentally ill, such as prevention and early intervention programs. It was designed for each county to be responsible for its own programs, chosen and designed by each county, themselves. Unfortunately, no oversight commission was ever established for the first eight years of the program. Even now it has little authority, and coming late to the game… you can guess how that’s going.
Consequently, the Little Hoover Commission’s report states there are next to no repercussions for careless or even fudged accounting, and lack of relevant data, which makes evaluating the programs next to impossible.
Spokesperson for the state Department of Health Care Services Norman Williams, overseer of the mental health program, claims the report was still being reviewed by agency officials as of Tuesday and is not able to offer comment. Williams did pledge, however that the agency would “work with county partners and others to ensure that the delivery of these important services is accomplished in an effective and efficient manner.”
At most, Little Hoover commissioners said in a hearing on Proposition 63 last year, that casual, unverifiable stories of individual success were given to them, but that in no manner could the state show “meaningful big-picture outcomes – such as reduced homelessness or improved school attendance.”
The commission, made up of numerous current and former lawmakers, as well as members of the public, issued its report to Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature. The Legislature has the means for amending the proposition by two-thirds vote in order to rectify the law, if deemed necessary. If being unable to account for, or show significant results from, $13 billion worth of taxpayer money over 10 years isn’t enough, what in the City of Angels would be?
Spokespersons for Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) – the two leaders of the state Legislature – have declined any comment as of Tuesday.
Luckily, it sounds like the commission is on track to make some solid recommendations to the Legislatures. Perhaps sensible reform is just around the corner and the mentally ill who really need help will begin to actually receive it.
According to CBS SF Bay Area, the Little Hoover Commission recommends the following:
- A ‘prompt and dramatic review’ of the oversight commission that includes expanding its authority;
- Requiring improved financial reporting;
- Using some of the money generated by the tax to create a modern data collection system, making data more easily accessible;
- Improve the program’s website to make it easier for the public to see how and where the money is spent.
- Requiring early intervention programs that could be controversial to be cleared by the commission before they are adopted;
Seems like some sound advice when one is playing with $13 billion dollars of taxpayer money.
This is not to say whatsoever that Proposition 63 is a bad piece of legislation, only that the means for tracking its spending and programs could be better refined.
If the money is to be taken, let it go to where it is intended, and let it be documented that that is exactly what is taking place.