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Governor vetoes substance-abuse treatment funds

Gov. Butch Otter has issued his first veto of the legislative session – using his line-item veto to nix $16.8 million in substance-abuse treatment funding, a top priority that numerous lawmakers have been working on for several years. “There is no question that we need an effective, community-based substance abuse treatment system in Idaho,” Otter wrote in both his veto messages, one for SB 1458 ($2.4 million) and one for HB 608 ($14.4 million). “There also should be no question that I support providing adequate public resources for treatment. However, the item vetoed in this bill goes far beyond the scope of what state policy makers had in mind when our treatment program was created or what Idaho taxpayers should be expected to accept.”

The veto endangers funding that would pay to continue substance-abuse treatment for participants in drug courts across the state – which many see as the state’s biggest success story in getting at substance-abuse problems. It also crimps efforts to develop community-based substance abuse treatment services, rather than relying on prisons. “Those are two things that we’re doing right,” said Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, after learning of the vetoes. “That’s remarkable.”

“The Legislature over the last several years has had a paradigm shift,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. Rather than continue putting money into prisons, he said, lawmakers want to invest in treatment. “It’s obvious that some haven’t made that shift – we’re disappointed,” he said. “We have to either re-do the budget or have to consider whether or not we override the governor. … It’s important to understand that what we did in that budget was not an increase over what we did last year. This was a maintenance of effort. We did not want to go backwards.”

Otter said there’s not enough data to justify the expense of the substance-abuse treatment programs. “It has been my consistent position that such investments must be justified over time by results,” he said, saying it would be “fiscally responsible and prudent to limit funding.”

Because the vetos are of one House bill and one Senate bill, both of which are budget bills dealing with substance abuse services, both houses will have to decide how to proceed. Said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, “There’s a lot of work ahead of us on that.” You can read my full story here at spokesmanreview.com.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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