Health care faces deep cuts without Ref. C |

Health care faces deep cuts without Ref. C

Alex Miller
NWS Ref C&D Health PU 9-27

EAGLE COUNTY – “It’s pretty frightening,” said Dr. Don Parsons.The Dillon M.D. wasn’t talking about trick-or-treaters on Halloween Monday but, rather, what will happen to public health services if Referendum C fails at the polls on Tuesday.Parsons is the president-elect of the Colorado Public Health Association, which represents hundreds of public health workers in the state. Talking about a list of possible cuts outlined by the state budget office if Referendum C is voted down (see sidebar), Parsons pointed out two areas identified for elimination: the Meals on Wheels program for seniors and the state’s prosthetics and orthotics program, which helps people with things like artificial limbs.”Is that what (referendum opponents) mean by ‘trimming the fat?'” Parsons said. All across the state, public health workers are eyeing Tuesday’s election with concern that programs close to home will be cut if Referendum C fails. And Parsons pointed out that public health agencies aren’t exactly swimming in money to begin with.In Eagle County, health and human services director Kathleen Forinash said there are several potential cuts that concern her – including state support for indigent burials, temporary aid to disabled people and elimination of victims’ services and suicide prevention programs.But Forinash said it’s the poorer counties that will suffer most; Eagle County has the funds to make up for state shortfalls.”Our county commissioners are very sensitive to the needs of vulnerable populations,” Forinash said. “In our budget, we presented to the commissioners the full level of support that we need.”Scare tactics?Jon Caldara, director of the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank in Golden leading the charge against C&D, calls the potential cuts a “boogieman list.” The state’s budget problems can be fixed by cuts in wasteful spending, Caldara said, alluding to a favorite conservative boogieman: embattled CU-Boulder professor Ward Churchill.”You’re not in a budget crisis when Ward Churchill can get a merit pay raise,” Caldara said.Stephen Slivinski, director of budget studies at the libertarian, Washington D.C.-based Cato Institute, said the list from the state budget office reminded him of one produced in Alabama several years ago.Bob Riley, a Republican governor faced with a budget deficit, went to the voters with a tax increase, which was voted down.”Before the vote, he released a list similar to this one from Colorado that called for draconian cuts in all sorts of programs,” Slivinski said. “It didn’t work as a scare tactic, and in the weeks following the election, Riley and the legislature were able to come up with other cuts that avoided the ones on the list.”Slivinski, who recently co-authored a report on the “myths” of TABOR and Referendum C (available online at, said he remains unconvinced that Colorado’s list is entirely legitimate.”These lists tend to push the envelope for rhetorical purposes as opposed to a serious statement about the state’s budget picture,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that these are the only cuts that can be made.”Slivinski said he believes Referendum C is the wrong approach. He’d rather see the state create a “rainy day” fund that can be dipped into during times of economic downturn.”It’s odd that the governor is saying they’re just trying to bring state spending up to where it was as if there was no recession,” Slivinski said. “That’s an alternative reality that doesn’t exist.”Since Colorado doesn’t have a rainy-day fund, state officials say they’ll have to trim $365 million from the 2006-07 budget if Referendum C doesn’t pass. Eagle County’s Forinash said if that happens, line items on a budget in Denver will have direct effects on people around the state. And counties will have to make up the difference.”When federal and state funds go away, the people who have the needs remain,” she said. “And the closer you are to the people with those needs, the more difficult it is to not provide those services.”Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or Daily, Vail, Colorado

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