One week after bad news, Mental Health’s gloomy state budget skies may be clearing
Mono County Mental Health Director Ann Gimpel understands the true meaning of “change.” For instance, when you’re watching the state budget, you never take anything as “final” until the governor’s signature is dry on the bottom line. Last week, we reported the rather dismal forecast Gimpel’s department was facing in light of the state’s ongoing budgetary machinations in Sacramento. The key word being “was.” As Gimpel (and many others like her) have come to expect, the only constant at the moment is change, and that’s what happened in the week since our last story ran.
According to Gimpel’s latest update on what’s happening in the state capitol, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has apparently been getting some traction in the legislature with a multi-year “restructuring program” he’s been floating. One part of Sen. Steinberg’s program involves statewide restoration of millions in Substance Abuse Crime Prevention Act program (originally Prop 36) dollars. Of those millions, about $196,000 originally scheduled to be taken from Mono County would be restored, amounting to big step back from the brink, according to Gimpel.
If it survives to the final budget, that $196,000 equates to just less than half of the $432,000 her department legitimately lost last year. She was only able to keep the department afloat due to four unfilled staff vacancies. (This year, Gimpel has five open staff positions that will remain unfilled.)
Ironically, the concept of “restructuring” has its roots in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s January and May Revision budget proposals, which talk about “realigning” certain state functions to local governments. For example, the May Revision proposes to modify criminal sentencing laws in a way that would require more convicted felons to serve their sentences in county custody, not state prison. The proposal also includes sharing state funds with counties to help offset the additional costs they would bear.
However, that proposal is largely considered an anomaly, as most of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s other budget proposals call for major cuts or eliminations of state-funded programs, particularly health and human services safety net programs, that will shift services and their associated costs to counties as unfunded mandates, with no clear way to pay for them. Some estimates say that, if enacted, the proposals could shift as much as $4 billion in costs to the counties. The could also result in the loss of even more in federal funds coming to California. (Many state programs funded from the fed have provisions that don’t allow the states to shift the responsibility for them to the counties.)
None of this is new, however. In 1991, California faced a budget deficit of more than $14 billion and the legislature enacted a state/local realignment program to shift $2 billion in program expenditures to local governments with a dedicated funding source. The state shifted responsibility to counties for planning, managing and delivering a number of programs in health, social services and mental health. The risk for program growth was also shifted to local government, but so was the program flexibility to manage that risk, especially in mental health programs. Other, smaller “realignments” occurred in subsequent years, including the 1997 shift of funding for trial courts from counties to the state, and the 2007 shift of major portions of the juvenile justice system from the state to the counties.
Nearly 20 years after the original 1991 realignment, assessments of the shift are a bit clearer. On one hand, some of the original flexibility provided to counties under the 1991 realignment have been whittled away and services have been reduced as inflation and other cost increases have cut into the real cost of delivering them. On the other hand, the shift probably preserved the programs from total elimination had they continued to rely solely on state revenues, given the state’s chronic fiscal difficulties.
Another part of the restructuring plan essentially calls for eliminating (or “consolidating”) the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (ADP), transferring any necessary remaining functions to other state agencies, such as Department of Health Care Services). That move, while cost saving, could also mean the elimination of some 300 jobs as a result of such “consolidation” measures.
School districts can also breath a little easier, at least this year, under Steinberg’s restructuring plan. Last week, a budget conference committee considered changes to AB 3632, which provides mental health services for Special Education students.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students requiring mental health services in any of the 13 disability categories may receive services from county mental health programs. They are free to all eligible students regardless of family income or resources.
An “alternative” presented by the Legislative Analysts Office would continue the original mandate for another year, after which it would be repealed as of July 11, 2011.
For fiscal year 2010-2011, the LAO’s plan would allot $133 million in General Fund dollars for past mandate claims, $49 million in IDEA funds to counties and an additional $20 million in federal IDEA funds to “some” schools for the transition from counties to school districts.
Mono County only has a few students that fall under the program, and access to $33,000 in IDEA funding, which it typically doesn’t go through. (The funds are not rolled over, but start over again each year.) That move makes sense to Gimpel and wouldn’t have any negative impact on Mono County, though she said larger counties, such as Los Angeles, that administer AB 3632 in the millions of dollars annually might balk at the LOA proposal.
Restructuring or not, one thing that hasn’t changed is the state budget’s projected deficit, which drunkenly staggers between $18 million and more than $20 million.