Court upholds governor’s veto of $54M program for homeless adults

A state appeals court in San Francisco on Thursday upheld Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2007 line-item veto of $54 million in funding for mental health services for homeless adults.

The Homeless Adults Program, begun in 1999, gave grants to counties to provide mental health services and outreach to mentally ill adults who were homeless or at risk of being homeless.

Before the 2007 veto, it had grown to serve 4,500 homeless or imprisoned adults in 34 counties.

Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto to eliminate $54 million in funding for the program in 2007. The governor said he supported the program’s goals, but said the cut was needed for budget reasons and the services could be restructured using county or federal funds.

Three mental health organizations and several individuals then sued Schwarzenegger and other state officials in Alameda County Superior Court.

They claimed the cut violated a 2004 voter initiative known as Proposition 63 or the Mental Health Services Act. The measure added a new tax to fund expanded mental health services while requiring that existing support for programs must remain in place.

In Thursday’s decision, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal affirmed a ruling in which Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch said the veto did not violate the initiative.

The court said the law’s requirement of maintaining existing funding referred to the total funding of all programs and not to individual programs.

Justice Stuart Pollak wrote, “Nowhere does the statute or any of the explanatory ballot materials suggest that the measure would remove from the Department (of Mental Health) its authority to monitor and adjust existing programs.”

Andrew Mudryk, a lawyer with Sacramento-based Disability Rights California, said no decision has been made on whether to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

“We’re very disappointed with the court’s ruling,” he said.

“The governor’s veto of the program was really unfortunate in that the program provided invaluable services to thousands of homeless individuals with psychiatric disabilities,” Mudryk said.

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