Governor Slashes Prop. 36 Drug Treatment Funds, Turns Back On Prison Reform4 min read

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In his 2007-08 budget proposal released today, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recommends a deep funding cut for California’s landmark, voter-approved treatment-instead-of-jail program, Proposition 36. The governor’s budget—$25 million less than current spending and $90 million less than the need—would gut one of the best public health programs ever to come out of California.

Prop. 36 has saved $1.3 billion in just five years, has allowed over 140,000 Californians to enter treatment and has kept more people out of prison than anything the governor has ever proposed. Despite these strong returns on the Prop. 36 investment, the governor seems determined to starve the program to death.

If the governor’s budget is approved, this would be the second year in a row that Prop. 36 drug treatment programs would have less money to operate than in the previous year. Last year, the Legislature approved $145 million in total for Prop. 36-related programs, but the governor now proposes only $120 million, to be divided between two separate Prop. 36 funds.

Of the $120 million proposed by the governor, $60 million would be channeled through a one-year-old fund called the Substance Abuse Offender Treatment Program (OTP), which requires county funding matches before state money is distributed. This means that counties will receive next to nothing—less than half what they received this year—unless already cash-strapped counties take on more of the costs for this state-mandated program.

This is a structure designed for endless conflicts and potential court action. Counties have already said they will challenge the requirement, and we could also see lawsuits by drug offenders, if appropriate treatment is not available.

According to a recent survey by the Coalition of Alcohol and Drug Associations, Prop. 36 needs at least $209.3 million to “adequately address the treatment needs.” The governor’s proposed funding for Prop. 36 falls almost $90 million short of that target, which would allow counties to better meet the range of needs in treatment, support services and criminal justice supervision for the over 36,000 clients enrolling in Prop. 36 programs each year.

The governor’s decision to ignore the data, ignore the need, and ignore the voters’ will is tragic. The Legislature must right this wrong.

About the Prop. 36 Budget Figures

For five years (FY 2001-02 through FY 2005-06), Prop. 36 was guaranteed funding of $120 million per year from the state general fund. Counties actually spent $143 million to implement Prop. 36 in FY 2005-06, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which was possible because some counties had carried forward money from earlier years with fewer clients.

Last year was the first in which legislators set the Prop. 36 program’s budget. The legislature approved $120 million for the main Prop. 36 fund, and $25 million in supplementary funds under the auspices of the OTP program. Due to delays in distributing that money, only $132 million is expected to be available to counties in fiscal year 2006-07, a reduction of $11 million from the previous year.

A simple adjustment for inflation, using statistical methods employed by the Department of Finance, would call for a Prop. 36 budget of at least $152.4 million to match the dollar value of the program’s first-year funding. By this measure, the governor’s newest proposal is at least $32.4 million short of the amount first allocated for Prop. 36.

Prop. 36 Generates Savings

Analyses conducted by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles show that for every $1 invested in Prop. 36, the state saves $2.50. For program completers, every $1 invested leads to $4 in savings. In the program’s first five years, taxpayer savings reached $1.3 billion, according to figures from the Justice Policy Institute. A recent UCLA analysis on Prop. 36 cost savings showed that the state enjoys 93% of the savings from Prop. 36, with counties receiving the remaining 7%.

Prop. 36 Background

Prop. 36 was approved by 61 percent of voters in November 2000. A June 2004 poll by the Field Institute showed support for the law at 73 percent. Nearly 12,000 people have successfully completed substance treatment during each year of Prop. 36’s existence, putting the program on track to graduate 72,000 Californians in its first six years.

For more information and a copy of the referenced reports, visit these sites:
UCLA Prop. 36 savings report
LAO report
UCLA report on county/state savings

For more information on Prop. 36, visit www.prop36.org

Margaret Dooley is the Drug Policy Alliance’s Prop. 36 Outreach Coordinator. Based in Southern California, she works with some of the state’s 60,000 Prop. 36 graduates to build links between graduates and their legislators, to educate the community on the success of drug treatment and to protect the voter-approved law so that Californians can continue to turn their lives around.

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