Romney vetoes health and human services
BY KRISTEN LOMBARDI
Last Monday, Governor Mitt Romney vetoed $201 million in funding for state programs as part of a $22.1 billion budget for fiscal year (FY) 2004, which began on July 1. Predictably enough, health and human services took the brunt of his budget ax. Indeed, the governorís vetoes have slashed spending for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs by as much as $100 million ó which accounts for half of all the cuts.
The latest whacks come on top of $1 billion in spending reductions to human-services programs since the stateís fiscal crisis took hold in 2001. And they follow some pretty consistent patterns. For one, the governorís vetoes continue what advocates call the " reprehensible " assault on small state agencies providing social services. The administration hammered away at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind by chopping $1.35 million from its account ó or five percent. It slashed almost $1.1 million from the Massachusetts Rehabilitative Commission, which provides support and employment services for disabled people. And it wiped out all $318,777 for reading programs for the blind. " The irony, " notes Massachusetts Human Services Coalition head Steve Collins, " is that these services help people with disabilities live productive lives so they wonít have to depend upon public assistance. "
Romney went after health-related initiatives with similar abandon. Clearly, his administration deserves credit for restoring Prescription Advantage, the $98 million prescription-drug program for the elderly and disabled, as well as for reinstating health insurance for some 36,000 chronically unemployed residents. But it also vetoed the entire $2.8 million for Medicaid coverage for cervical- and breast-cancer treatment for poor women. If that veto is sustained, advocates say, Massachusetts will become the only state in the nation not to implement the program, which is primarily paid for with federal funds.
On the public-health front, meanwhile, funding for disease prevention and health promotion continues its two-year-long descent into the abyss. The administration completely gutted compulsive-gambling treatment ($654,942), teen-suicide prevention ($125,000), and prostate-cancer prevention ($1 million), among a host of other programs.
By far, Romney has dealt his harshest blow to civil-legal-aid services for poor and underserved populations (see " Legally Blind, " News and Features, March 13). He completely eliminated funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), slashing the $7.6 million that advocates and their legislative allies had worked to restore. Likewise, he wiped out the $501,085 for the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, and the $500,000 for the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. The veto is shocking, given that Romney, in his " House 1 " recommended budget last February, had appropriated $6 million for these services. Says MLAC director Lonnie Powers, " The governorís veto undermines all our efforts to ensure equal justice to those who cannot afford private attorneys. "
For advocates like Powers, though, the fight isnít over yet. Next Monday, July 7, the legislature will vote on which vetoes to override. And because of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, virtually any of the governorís vetoes can be overridden ó if, that is, advocates can win sympathy from the House, where budget allocations must originate. As state representatives ó or, more correctly, House Speaker Tom Finneran ó mull over how to vote, human-services advocates are lobbying for their programs to be included on the master " list " of overrides. " Itís 99 percent sure a veto will be overridden if it makes the list, " Collins explains. The challenge, of course, is making it, especially when the governor issued 370 vetoes in all.
As Collins puts it, " We hope legislators will move to override these vetoes. At the very least, we hope theyíll defend their own budget " numbers.
Issue Date: July 4 - 10, 2003
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