Supplemental budget bill includes State Hospital money

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(Host) The Douglas administration plans to ask the Legislature to allocate almost four million additional dollars for the State Hospital in Waterbury. The request is part of the administration’s supplemental budget plan.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When lawmakers return to Montpelier in January, one of their first priorities will be the consideration of the Budget Adjustment Act. This proposal represents a mid-course correction in the budget that was approved last spring to reflect unexpected developments in a number of state agencies.

This year the administration will seek an additional $9.5 million in state spending, virtually all of it for various programs in the Human Services Agency. Administration Secretary Michael Smith says the extra money is needed to deal with increased caseloads in the Corrections Department, the Health Department and SRS.

The largest chunk of the proposal, $3.7 million, is being used to improve conditions at the State Hospital in Waterbury – a facility that was decertified by the federal government this fall:

(Smith) “A large amount of it is to replace some funds that we’re losing in terms of reimbursement because of the decertification, but we’re also adding staff, making sure that we can get back up to the level of certification. And then at some point we’ve got to take a look at where we’re going with the State Hospital in the future.”

(Kinzel) The Legislature’s Health Care Oversight Committee is calling for the phasing out the State Hospital. Smith says the administration is looking at this proposal but he argues that there will always be a need for a small state institution:

(Smith) “I think everybody is on the same page that we will need a facility for those forensic patients that are transferred to the hospital, those who have committed a crime. And also those patients that can’t be served anyplace else. So we’re open to other options.”

(Kinzel) Smith says the administration wants to pay for the nearly $10 million Budget Adjustment Act by tapping into some extra federal funds, even though the state has posted a small surplus in the current fiscal year:

(Smith) “We’re still very cautious of that. Until we start seeing a few more months also the economists are looking – both the legislative economists and our economists – are looking at whether there should be adjustments. Right now we don’t have those numbers yet, we don’t have those indications of where they’re going. So we felt the most prudent things to do is use money that we know is available rather than money that we’re unsure of at the moment.”

(Kinzel) The House Appropriations Committee will meet all this week to review the Supplemental Budget plan.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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