With the state facing a budget deficit of $3 billion, state lawmakers are ready to slice and dice various programs that parents and others say are needed to care for those unable to speak for themselves.
Under proposed cuts by Arizona lawmakers, programs that help 2,000 developmentally disabled children and 2,000 mentally disabled adults would be eliminated.
Advocates for the developmentally disabled say that cutting early-intervention programs for children or vocational programs for disabled adults is shortsighted and will cost taxpayers millions more in the long run.
The proposed cuts affect about $41 million for state-funded disability programs and another $50 million to $60 million in state and federal money for long-term care for the more severely disabled.
State Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, defends the state action saying the state can’t spend money it doesn’t have.
Legislators have no choice but to cut virtually all aspects of state government, he said. “We’re dealing with a $3 billion budget deficit, and it’s growing every day,” Kavanagh said. “It’s hard to give any group immunity when the state is in a total meltdown.”
Randy Gray, president and CEO of Mesa’s Marc Center, said he believes services for the developmentally disabled are cut disproportionally because his clients are an easy target.
“I believe it was a convenient decision to make because it’s a vulnerable population and they can’t speak for themselves,” Gray said. “We have reverted our entire system of quality care back to the early 1970s.”
Kavanagh said the cuts for disabled programs are among the lowest in the state budget.
The proposed House budget plan for the state Department of Economic Security’s share of state revenues is being cut 9.8 percent.
But when federal revenue and other sources are factored in, the net impact of the cut is only 2.7 percent, according to the House budget plan.
That is below the 3.4 percent average for the seven largest general-fund agencies.
Gray said the state should implement a sales-tax increase to reduce the shortfall, but Kavanagh disagrees.
The needs of the disabled and others must be balanced against a tax increase that would likely prompt private companies to lay off more workers, worsening the recession, Kavanagh said.
“We understand they are a vulnerable population,” Kavanagh said. “That’s why we’re trying to have a minimal impact on them. We tried to protect them as much as we could.”