Plan Could Stave Off Devastating State Budget Cuts

Friday, October 20th 2017, 5:37 pm

Just days after the state announced plans for devastating cuts to mental health and substance abuse services, lawmakers have come up with a temporary fix.

But this is just a band-aid, and it will leave the state even deeper in the hole.

The plan will continue to fund agencies until March of next year, but it's really just kicking the can down the road.

Anthony Davis has struggled with depression and anxiety his whole life.

"At the age of 23, I stuck a gun to my head and pulled the trigger and tried to end my life." 

Davis still has the scar on his forehead and a bullet near his brain. He says without the medicine and counseling he gets from the state he will lapse into a dark depression again.

Those are the same programs the state plans to cut unless lawmakers can reach a budget deal. The state is $215 million in the red after the legislature passed an unconstitutional tobacco tax this year. Since then, legislative leaders have not been able to agree on a solution.

This week, House Speaker Charles McCall released a vague statement saying:

"The state has available cash that the House could appropriate to protect healthcare services impacted by the recent Supreme Court decision. These monies would delay the cuts into 2018 or until a strategic budget solution is reached."

Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols explained Republicans will run a bill next week using $83 million in state reserves to fund agencies. Representatives will also ask the governor to use $23 million from the rainy day fund. Democrats will not have to back the bill for it to pass.

The governor's chief of staff, Chris Benge, did not seem to back the plan. He responded: 

"We have cautioned against  using the available cash because we are seeking sustainable reoccurring revenue in order to put the state on sound financial footing. Also, whatever cash is used now will mean less flexibility and options for writing the fiscal year 2019 budget."

Representative Jason Dunnington (D) District 88 said, "We're looking at another $400 million deficit next session and so we're not even really talking about fixing the overall problem. We're just talking about what kind of band-aid to use right now."

Davis says without the funding, "I would most likely wind up in a suicidal state multiple times until probably...until I would either end up probably passing away from it. Yes."