Mental health initiative pushed by assemblyman |

Mental health initiative pushed by assemblyman

On a visit to Nevada County Friday, State Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg said the Mental Health Initiative featured on November’s ballot could save a million lives in California.

Speaking before local mental health advocates, the Sacramento politician said it was time to take Proposition 63 and mental health services funding to the voters because “it doesn’t have the juice in the legislative area.”

The proposition would tax wealthy Californians and bring in $600 million to $700 million more per year for state mental health services, said Steinberg, D-Sacramento. That figure could climb to $1 billion with federal matching funds, he said.

To tap into the increased funds, Nevada County would have to prove it could use the money efficiently through county offices and local mental health groups like SPIRIT, which hosted Steinberg at its Grass Valley drop-in center. But with at least $600 million, there would be plenty to spread around, Steinberg said.

The assemblyman campaigned on a mental health platform when he first ran for the Assembly. He said he managed to pass a bill that has pumped $60 million into mental health services and additional bills that helped bring 10,000 people in off the streets for treatment.

The bills were necessary because California was thrown into a mental health care crisis in the late 1960s when its mental hospitals were closed, Steinberg said. At that time, the savings were supposed to go to community mental health programs but never did, he said.

“Thirty-six years of a failed promise, that’s long enough to wait,” Steinberg said.

The proposition would put a 1 percent tax on income above $1 million.

The assemblyman personally thanked area residents Nick and Amanda Wilcox, who were in the audience, for working on the initiative and mental health issues. Their daughter, Laura, was slain by mental health patient Scott Thorpe in 2001 while Laura was working at the county mental health office.

“They have taken the worst kind of tragedy imaginable and tried to make the world better as a result,” Steinberg said.

The assemblyman said legislative analysts have told him the initiative would pass a legal challenge. There is no large financial challenge to the initiative, but anti-tax groups are against it, and advocates should not get complacent, Steinberg said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will probably remain neutral on the issue because he believes in mental health services but cannot politically endorse a new tax, Steinberg said. The assemblyman said polls are showing support of near 70 percent.

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