'It'll Be Very Bad for Care of the Mentally Ill'

by David Gorn

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Governor Jerry Brown last week signed a major chunk of his $14 billion budget reduction package -- a combination of cuts, loans and redirected funds. It included about $6 billion in health-related reductions.

The second half of Brown's budget solution involves tax extensions that must be approved by voters and could generate as much as $12 billion for California. If that ballot measure fails, then Brown has said he will need to cut that amount -- roughly doubling the current budget cuts.

The open question has been: What would be axed in that potential second round of budget cuts?

The answer may have changed a little and could now include some health-related services. Brown has not yet revealed what his second round of cuts would be specifically, but last week he mentioned mental health and emergency services in discussing what might be hurt by non-passage of the tax extensions.

"Before they vote, before we have to make the cuts, people will get insight into what it is," Brown said last week during the signing of 13 legislative bills, which represent most of Brown's $14 billion budget reduction.

"But you can be sure," Brown said, "it will be very bad for the university, it'll be very bad for schools, very bad for public safety, it'll be very bad for care of the mentally ill, it'll be very bad for emergency medical and things like that."

Brown can't cut care for the mentally ill any more than he has, according to Rusty Selix, executive director of the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies.

"We don’t believe he has the authority to make additional mental health cuts without voter approval," Selix said. "It sounds as if he's tied mental health funding to public safety, and there are certainly some non-mental health services [such as police officer help] that people [with mental health issues] depend on. But if you're talking about cutting the mental health component, we don't think he can do that."

Selix said he likes the governor's realignment plan, which also must be approved by voters. That aspect of the expected ballot measure, the realignment of county services, could have an impact on mental health care, he said. "It makes [mental health] funding better," Selix said.

After announcing his budget-balancing plan in January, Brown was asked to speculate about what would happen if the tax extensions measure should fail.  He said it was not likely that any further budget cuts would  come from health-related programs.

"It's very hard to cut health services because of the federal involvement," Brown said on Jan. 10. "We're so tied up in the federal money. Every time there's a [health care services] cut, you're facing losses [of matching federal dollars]."

Since then, Brown has studiously avoided speculating about the details of what might be cut if the ballot measure fails, outside of cutting education and public safety.

 


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