For the past two days, the House Finance Committee has heard testimony on what it should cut from the operating budget and, especially, what it shouldn’t. Opposition has been especially vocal when it comes to an $8.4 million reduction in behavioral health funding.
Kathi Collum serves on the board of Juneau Youth Services, an organization that receives state grants. Her son also received treatment there.
“As a child, my oldest son was a little bit difficult, the proverbial wild child. As he grew into his teens, it escalated to the point where we began to fear for our own safety. At that point we took him for an assessment to Juneau Youth Services, and he was diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder,” Collum says.
Collum urged the finance committee to keep funding for behavioral and mental health at the levels set by the governor’s budget. She says that the money spent on her son benefited him — and the state.
“I feel that a year at Miller House is what prevented my son from becoming another faceless number in an overcrowded prison system,” Collum says.
The $8.4 million cut isn’t from any specific program: It’s getting rid of a pot of money that hasn’t actually been allocated. The concern is that by removing it from the budget, it could lower the base funding level for behavioral health in future years.
Rep. Lindsey Holmes, an Anchorage Republican, says that the committee is focused on tightening the budget in the face of a deficit, but that they are taking the public’s testimony very seriously.
“We hope people keep in mind that I know that there are certain changes that have been made to the budget that have a lot of people concerned. It is a long process. This is one of the very early stages,” Holmes says.
The finance committee is expected to start taking amendments on budget as soon as Monday.
Watch the testimony (Courtesy Gavel Alaska)