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‘We have saved some lives’

Former House Judiciary Chair Debbie Field, now the head of Gov. Butch Otter’s Office of Drug Policy,  presented the statewide request for substance abuse services funding to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning, joined by the directors of the state departments of Health & Welfare, Corrections, courts, juvenile corrections, and the head of an interagency committee coordinating between them all. Said Field, “We have saved some lives.” The coordinated effort, a priority for lawmakers in recent years, has prompted a turnaround in the growth of Idaho’s prison inmate population, she said. “We were able to change history this year,” Field told lawmakers. “We actually entered the year with fewer inmates than we started the (previous) year with.” She said, “You really can see where we’ve made the difference together.”

For the coming year, the Office of Drug Policy requested a $475,600 budget, and the request for statewide substance abuse services, in all the agencies combined, was $9.3 million. Gov. Butch Otter has recommended, on a one-time basis, putting no general funds into the office operations budget, and instead funding it on a one-time basis from Idaho’s Millenium Fund, which comes from proceeds from a nationwide tobacco settlement. He also is calling for drawing $1.9 million from the Millenium Fund for the statewide substance abuse services request in addition to $5.2 million in general funds; that brings his total recommendation for that request to $7.1 million, $2.2 million less than the request.


“Whatever we are given, we’re going to leverage because of this partnership,” Field said. “It’s powerful.” A 21-year-old former gang member from Pocatello named Kevin, who attended the budget hearing wearing his first-ever (borrowed) suit, told JFAC, “All my life leads to right here.”

Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, questioned why the joint legislative committee that oversees the Millenium Fund, which held hearings in October on which projects to fund but hasn’t yet made a decision, wasn’t told about the governor’s plans for that money. Roger Brown, the governor’s financial analyst for that budget, said the revenue picture hadn’t yet become so dire. “The mission of the Office of Drug Policy dovetails beautifully with the Millenium Fund,” he said. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “I think it’s important that we continue the efforts we had in the past. If in this economic time, we have to take money out of the Millenium Fund to do so, I’m OK with that.” Some other projects may have to wait, he said. “I can think of three or four things that are absolutely important to be funded out of the Millenium Fund, and this is one of them.”
  


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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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