published Monday, June 6th, 2011

Budget cuts take effect in July

BUDGET CUTS


Here are some of budget cuts that will take effect July 1:

Board of Probation and Parole

• Loses 19 positions, including six filled positions. Savings: $1.96 million

Environment and Conservation

• Public golf courses at Old Stone State Park in Manchester and T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis close in mid-September. Nine positions cut. Savings: $892,000

• Groundwater Protection Division loses 28 positions. Savings: $1.2 million.

• Other cuts: $4.89 million

Correction Department

• Cut 82 positions, including 10 administrative jobs. Savings: $5.24 million

Economic and Community Development

• Eliminate local planning offices, cut 69 positions. Savings: $3.98 million

Education

• Cut 120 positions, reduce coordinated school health program. Savings: $9.7 million.

Health

• Cut diabetes program. Savings: $2.6 million

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

• Cut 615 positions, including 587 at Clover Bottom and Greene Valley development centers; limit home-based nursing service; trim personal assistants. Savings: $44.36 million

Safety Department

• Eliminate 18 positions, including nine vacant trooper positions. Savings: $919,000

Children’s Services

• Close state-run group homes for juvenile delinquents; eliminate 236 positions departmentwide. Savings: $12.1 million

Sources: 2011-12 state budget; Finance and Administration Department; Office of Legislative Budget Analysis

NASHVILLE—There will be fewer people protecting Tennessee’s groundwater, patrolling its roads or taking care of its most vulnerable people in the budget year that starts July 1.

State lawmakers approved dozens of cost-saving measures in the $30.8 billion budget that awaits Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature. Among the cuts are home-based nursing for people with intellectual disabilities, probation and parole officers and school-based health programs. The budget abolishes 236 positions in the Department of Children’s Services. It will close seven government-run group homes for juvenile delinquents and outsource their operations to the private sector.

Haslam’s budget eliminates 62 planners in the state Department of Economic and Community Development who help rural cities and counties with local projects. He and ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty argue local governments ought to pay for such services.

Haslam pushed for many of the cuts and the GOP-controlled Legislature went along as state revenues recover slowly from the recession.

Though the state will lose $1.82 billion in federal stimulus funds, overall state revenue is up 4.4 percent, or $565.6 million.

“The good news for Tennessee is those revenues strengthened some,” the governor said. “We also found out the federal government owed us some money for TennCare and Medicaid issues.”

But not everyone’s happy. Cuts of $11 million to programs that keep people with Down syndrome or other intellectual disabilities out of state institutions are worrying for families and advocates.

“Our position ... is that in a lot of individual situations the state is not going to save any money,” said Carol Westlake, executive director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition.

Westlake warned the state is “on the verge of forcing some people into institutional care, which we would argue is going to cost the state more.”

Missy Marshall, spokeswoman for the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Department, said the services are being used in ways never envisioned.

Moreover, she said, “we don’t have the revenue we once had.”

Federal officials have approved the caps. One limits home-based nursing care to no more than 12 hours a day. It would affect about 130 people and save $4.8 million, Marshall said.

If people need around-the-clock nursing, it “may be more economical” for them to live in a group setting, Marshall said.

But Westlake argued that state law makes it hard to avoid full-time nursing care. For example, she said, no one except a nurse or family member can perform tasks such as inserting feeding tubes.

The budget caps use of personal assistants at 215 hours a month to save $5.1 million.

About 1,760 people are affected, said Marshall, who noted some families use two personal assistants simultaneously.

The budget cuts 587 jobs at two developmental centers, Clover Bottom in Nashville and Greene Valley in Greeneville. That supports long-term efforts to move as many people as possible into community settings, officials said.

1,300 positions

All told, the budget cuts 1,320 positions, according to a draft prepared by the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Budget Analysis, but it’s not clear how many of those positions are filled.

The Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Groundwater Protection stands to lose 102 positions, more than 27 percent, but only 11 jobs are filled.

Departmental spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton said the division regulates septic tanks in rural counties and operates on fees. With housing in a slump, applications have plummeted from 18,000 a year to about 6,000, she said, adding that the staff can handle the workload.

But John McFadden with the Tennessee Environmental Council said the depth of the cuts is cause for concern.

“Groundwater is where over 50 percent of our population get drinking water, so its importance cannot be understated,” McFadden said.

TennCare is losing at least $70 million. Doctors who perform unnecessary caesarian births will get lower reimbursements. Nursing homes, managed care organizations, lab and X-ray services and other providers could see 4.5 percent cuts if the federal government doesn’t repay $65.4 million it owes to TennCare.

Excluding TennCare, legislative experts estimate the state is cutting about $400 million overall, including about $286 million in state funds.

Nearly $300 million already was cut from the University of Tennessee and State Board of Regents systems but delayed with stimulus funds. Now those cuts will take effect, and higher education officials have made plans to trim another $20 million, or 2 percent. The two systems have raised tuition repeatedly in recent years.

Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes, former president and CEO of Bridgestone Tires, said governments should emulate corporations in looking for ways to improve quality while cutting costs.

“We need to look at ways to service the people of the state of Tennessee but constantly look at ways to cut costs and expenses. So there’s a balance in there,” Emkes said.

The state has maintained that balance, he said, given the current challenges.

But Bob O’Connell, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, questions whether the balance is off.

Haslam has “kind of the business-oriented, Republican philosophy which is that smaller government is better,” O’Connell said.

When it comes to firing state workers, O’Connell said, “We don’t like that and never will like that. He [Haslam] understands it. We have a disagreement in philosophy there, but we’re still talking.”

“When it comes to state government, he has told us and the world that he thinks there should be a smaller state government with fewer state employees who are better paid,” O’Connell said. “We like the second part of that.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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Rights4Disabled said...

So the budget is being balanced on the backs of the mentally disabled, the most helpless of those in our society. The budget for their needed Personal Assistants is not being cut by 2%, or 5%, or even 10%, but OVER 50%. That's pathetic, Tennessee. Hurt the ones that need help the most.

June 6, 2011 at 6:10 p.m.
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