Lawmakers review specifics of new budget

On January 30, 2008, in News 2008, by Mark Norris

Mental retardation unit’s cuts questioned

January 30, 2008

State lawmakers pored over Gov. Phil Bredesen’s $27.9 billion budget blueprint on Tuesday, the day after the governor announced his spending priorities in his State of the State speech.

Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz briefed senators in the morning, then House members in the afternoon, on details of the governor’s plan. As Goetz proceeded with a PowerPoint presentation, lawmakers quizzed him on aspects of the plan, from the state’s school funding formula to switchgrass research, capital projects to corrections.

One area that received substantial attention was the administration’s decision to cut by 6.1 percent the rates that the state Division of Mental Retardation Services spends on community-based services for clients, many of whom are children. The cuts went into effect this month, and some lawmakers said they have been receiving complaints.

Program costs have been ballooning, Goetz said, largely because many clients live alone when they should be in cheaper group homes. The state budgeted a rate of $209 per person per day this year, but the state has been paying as high as $235, Goetz said.

“We need to provide what’s medically necessary, but we don’t want to provide a level of service that we can’t afford,” he said.

‘These are fragile folks’ Sen. Mark Norris, the Senate Republican leader, said “this a sensitive area, these are fragile folks, and they’re sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ ”

“I’ve cautioned the particular interest groups that they need to be temperate in the way that they deal with this,” he said, “and take stock of the fact that the administration is trying to work on it.”

With the governor’s proposal in hand, the House and Senate will spend much of the legislative session revising the budget, which the governor must eventually sign.

Goetz warned that the financial outlook was still uncertain. If the state has taken in less revenue than expected from holiday sales, “we will be back to you with recommendations as to how we would reduce expenditures further,” he said.

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