How are Prop. 63 funds being spent in your county?

Published on
July 6, 2011

Looking for a good watchdog health story in your community?

Try taking a look at how local agencies are spending Proposition 63 funds.

The Record Searchlight on Tuesday focused on Shasta County's suicide-prevention efforts, just one aspect of the multipronged Mental Health Services Act that California voters passed in 2004.

We found that while Shasta County spent $185,000 on a suicide-prevention workgroup and held two years of meetings, little had been done to actually come up with a plan to combat the county's alarming suicide rate.

Indeed, Shasta County residents remain twice as likely to kill themselves as the rest of California, and the suicide numbers are climbing.

"Their prevention plan is to have a plan," Rose King, the former legislative aide who helped draft Prop. 63, told us.

The Record Searchlight wasn't the only news outlet to explore possible waste of Prop. 63 funds.

The Bay Area News Group and the San Jose Mercury News recently did stories on how the landmark tax on millionaires was supposed to bolster the state's failing mental-health system, but seven years later is instead being sucked into local public health department bureaucracies.

The stories explore public health departments' world of never-ending meetings, high-priced consultants and questionable programs (like Santa Clara County spending $180,000 to create nine, eight-to-12-minute videos for "mental health promotion" in ethnic communities). The stories could serve as a possible jumping off point to start your own investigation.

I'd suggest local reporters start asking their public health departments how they're spending the Prop. 63 funds. Request expense reports. Ask about the number of meetings they've held, the consultants they've hired and what they've done with the funds to actually combat the county's mental-health problems.

Look for something that can be quantified, like suicide rates. Have the county's efforts actually led to any noticeable changes?

My hunch is you'll find similar trends.