More joy to look forward to.
Proposed state budget cuts could cost Harris County government nearly $50 million a year, according to a legislative analyst’s rough estimates, rolling back or eliminating state allowances for dozens of programs that include mental health services, auto theft prevention, alternatives to jail and a school for juvenile offenders.
The starting-point House budget introduced in in Austin last week would possibly take a $13 million chunk out of money the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County uses to treat adults and children.
If the state cuts come to pass, the sheriff’s unit dedicated to auto theft would be halved and a camp for youth offenders would have to turn away kids who need its intensive counseling to prevent them from becoming career criminals, county officials said.
In other cases, the state cuts would transfer the burden onto a county government already contemplating hundreds of layoffs.
For example, the state mandates that the county run a school for children expelled from their neighborhood schools for weapons and serious drug offenses. But the starting-point budget would take away $3 million of the $12 million the state sends to cover the cost of busing, educating and counseling kids from all over the county at a school near Reliant Park.
Tom Brooks, the county’s juvenile probation director, said the school would be “crippled” by the proposed cut and that he would ask the state to lift the mandate if the proposed spending plan is what emerges from Austin this year.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia, County Judge Ed Emmett and MHMRA executive director Stephen Schnee have been saying for months that such drastic state cuts will transfer the bill to county agencies as people who could have benefited from treatment in community centers end up in emergency rooms and jail cells.
“Harris County will pick up the tab for them to be staying in jail and the mental health care they receive in jail, which is much more expensive than in the free world,” sheriff’s spokesman Alan Bernstein said Wednesday.
The state budget in its current form would eliminate the entire $1 million in state money spent on auto theft prevention and detection in Harris County. The Houston area accounts for about 30 percent of the state’s stolen cars, according to the sheriff’s office. Sheriff’s spokespeople were particularly puzzled by the auto theft cut, since the money comes from a surcharge in motorists’ auto insurance premiums and not from taxes.
So expect there to be more firings and more crime, not to mention higher local taxes in many places as the state sloughs its responsibilities off on cities and counties. Oh, and quite possibly your insurance rates, too.
Budget drafts call for a 10 percent reduction in payments to Medicaid providers and deep cuts in health and human services spending, including mental-health programs.
Proponents of the reductions call them necessary to control spending on the state’s Medicaid program, which cost a total of $24.7 billion in fiscal 2011. The federal government picks up $16.6 billion of that.
More than $7 billion a year in Medicaid money is paid to the state’s 500 hospitals.
Texas hospitals have protested the reductions, saying they will further strain hospitals’ resources and lead more providers to drop Medicaid. The program now covers only about 60 percent of a provider’s cost for treating a patient. Less Medicaid coverage would lead more patients to seek help in emergency rooms, where care is far more expensive, hospitals say.
An effort to shift more Medicaid patients into managed-care programs could exacerbate the financial pain for providers, according to the Texas Hospital Association.
“Reductions of this magnitude will seriously jeopardize access to healthcare and shift more healthcare costs to local governments and insured Texans,” said Dan Stultz, association president, in a statement.
Funny thing, just because the state refuses to pay for a need doesn’t make that need go away. It just means some other entity winds up paying for it. In many cases, they wind up paying more than what the state would have paid. In the end, of course, it all comes out of our pockets. But hey, at least we balanced the state budget.