Gov. Bill Haslam opened public hearings on the next state budget Monday and immediately confronted the possibility of axing programs that combat diabetes, breast and cervical cancer, and child abuse.
The governor listened as his commissioners described potential cuts in the roughly $30 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Health Commissioner Susan Cooper laid out a number of what she called “critically important” programs that will end unless the legislature appropriates new funding for them. These programs have been kept alive during the economic recession with one-time state emergency funds or with federal stimulus money, which is evaporating this year.
“We have over $1.5 billion of non-recurring revenue in this year’s budget,” the governor explained to reporters. “There’s no way we’re going to find that much money to bring back, so our job is to prioritize. There’s some painful things here.”
Among the initiatives on the chopping block is one aimed at diabetes prevention, which now serves 225,000 people including children in day-care and after-school programs focusing on healthy lifestyles, Cooper said.
The state once had the nation’s worst rate of diabetes. But that $7 million program has helped Tennessee climb ahead of eight other states, she said.
Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith brought his own list of disappearing programs, including school nurses, teacher pay for after-school work and funding for public TV stations across the state.
The health department also would stop a $500,000 breast and cervical cancer screening program for 14,000 uninsured and underinsured women, the state’s HIV testing initiative and a program that helps hemophiliacs.
Health department home visits that served 741 families in the past year, and healthy start classes for 1,400 children and their parents, also would end, Cooper said. Both of those programs are intended to reduce child abuse and neglect.
Haslam will hold budget hearings for the rest of this week. His budget recommendation is due to the legislature on March 1.