Feb 25 2008

This is your budget on drugs

Published by at 1:45 pm under Idaho

Our take on the policy argument is that Idaho’s Joint Finance-Appropriations (budget) Committee’s action restoring $10.7 million to the Office of Drug Policy – money that would be aimed at maintaining drug treatment services at existing levels, rather than being sliced to ribbons – was the right move. But it also had a secondary beneficial side effect: Exposing why the cut was proposed in the first place, and maybe revealing more even than that.

Last year Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter brought together several anti-drug state efforts under one roof, the ODP, and put former legislator Debbie Field in charge. The office handled significant funds, including a large $21 million federal grant. That money is going away, leaving the substance abuse treatment efforts with a measly $3 million. In preparing the proposed budget for this session, she proposed replacing much of it. In making his budget decisions, Otter eliminated the backfill, drastically cutting drug treatment programs.

Policy note here: He was doing that at the same time he was calling for major stat rampups on prison spending. That would suggest he’d rather spend vastly more money on warehousing people who have gotten deeper and deeper into trouble than spending fewer bucks working to keep them out of trouble and productive in the state’s society. But that wasn’t the argument he made.

The Idaho Statesman reported on the governor’s rationale – inadequate paperwork:

“Debbie’s budget was no different than anybody else’s,” Otter told me. “They were spending 7 million bucks a year and not takin’ a single note. … I just couldn’t in good conscience say, ‘Well, OK, just because the feds walked away from it, we’re gonna pick it up.’”

“I don’t disagree,” said Field, who missed by 10 weeks her deadline to justify her spending request. “People couldn’t give me data that I asked for.”

This made little sense. Most governors, faced with a subordinate who had failed to develop the necessary information to determine proper funding levels for a program, would have ordered the information be developed, or find someone else who would get the job done.

But now we have a little more information to evaluate with.

Today, JFAC added in $10.5 million for substance abuse treatment, deeming it a sound use of state money. What was interesting was the response to that from Otter’s budget chief, Wayne Hammon. He said, at one point, that “Yes, we need to do something about drug treatment, but this is a lot of money.”

But then there was this, noting also that legislators had approved less than Otter wanted for state employee pay increases: “Is their priority state employees? No, it’s drug users, that’s their priority.”

It isn’t, of course; drug treatment, with the idea that it might be a sounder way of spending money, was. But unless we’re much mistaken, the real rationale from the governor’s office was just given away this morning.

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One Response to “This is your budget on drugs”

  1. slfisheron 28 Feb 2008 at 12:38 pm

    Nice catch.

    The other thing is that the comparison between drug users and state employees is specious; the money recommended for the office of drug policy is one-time and couldn’t be used for paying state employees in any event.

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