House leaders clamp down on spending growth
A House subcommittee on Wednesday went over recommendations for spending $3.9 billion on health and human services in the coming year, but lawmakers said they weren't allowed to make many changes before forwarding the plan to top budget writers.Posted — Updated
Advocates and concerned citizens said the meeting of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services left them with more questions than answers, and even some lawmakers expressed frustration at the process.
"We were instructed by the 'big chairs' not to put any expansion in our budget," said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, referring to the nickname for the House's senior budget writers.
The budget writers will decide where any extra funds will go once the various committees come to them with their wish lists, said Insko, vice chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee.
"The whole process is difficult to follow and understand," said Dave Richard, executive director of Arc of North Carolina, which works with people who have developmental disabilities. "We're very concerned with how the process is going."
Insko said she shares Richard's concerns, noting it appears her subcommittee is reviewing an incomplete budget draft.
"Our concerns are we didn't put the mental health money back in, $40 million that was cut," she said. "We didn't put any money in for hospital bed expansion. Also, there's no expansion for AIDS drug assistance program. That's another priority for all of us."
One program that came out ahead in the process was Personal Care Services. Proposals by Gov. Beverly Perdue and the Senate would eliminate the program, which provides in-home care to disabled people, and replace it with one to cover less than half the current 38,000 patients.
The subcommittee suggested leaving about $19.6 million in the budget for PCS. Insko said she believes a new state initiative in which nurses evaluate patient needs will save the state tens of millions of dollars.
Still, Richard and other advocates said they would like to see a budget process that's more transparent and easier to understand.
"We don't know how anybody that's back home can follow this and have any reasonable way of knowing what's going to be in this budget and how to speak to their local legislators about it because the process is confusing and moving too fast," Richard said.
The House wants to vote on its budget next week.
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