Governor boosts health care in his supplemental budget

$30 million to be paid to mental health providers

March 31, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron and M. Dion Thompson | Thomas W. Waldron and M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Under pressure from legislators and financially strapped health care providers, Gov. Parris N. Glendening is proposing to spend an additional $46 million next year on state health programs.

In a budget sent to the General Assembly yesterday, the governor included $30 million for mental health providers, some of whom are facing bankruptcy because of late payments from the state.

He also agreed to legislators' requests by providing partial funding for a program to offer state assistance to the elderly to purchase prescription drugs.

The health spending is in a $157.8 million supplement to the $21 billion budget that the legislature is expected to approve as early as Monday. "It's a fiscally prudent, sustainable budget that meets crucial needs," said Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill.

Glendening's supplement also includes funding for dozens of mostly small building projects and program initiatives. Among them is $7 million to help with revitalization projects such as Baltimore's west-side redevelopment.

The governor included $2.1 million to help pay for a new statewide voting system - a recommendation of a task force formed after the controversies in last fall's presidential election.

But the bulk of the new budget is devoted to health programs that legislators complained were under-funded by the governor in his initial spending plan.

At the top of the list is the $30 million for mental health providers. The governor also proposed spending $6.5 million on a state program to help low-income elderly residents pay for prescription drugs. Such a plan is a priority of some delegates and senators.

Glendening has resisted calls to create such a program, noting its potentially enormous cost, but he included the $6.5 million to fund a short-term program in anticipation of Congress doing more.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a key player on the prescription drug issue, said the $6.5 million, along with some contributions from the private sector, should enable the Assembly to "come up with a pretty good plan that's going to cover some folks who don't have coverage now."

In another nod to legislative concerns, Glendening included $1.4 million to help move the developmentally disabled out of hospitals and into community living arrangements - moves required by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Although lawmakers and advocates say the cost of making such outplacements could soar, Morrill said the governor concluded the state could not afford to do more in the coming year.

The city of Baltimore won a five-year, $50 million commitment from the governor for capital projects. The $7 million included in the budget for next year could be used for west-side revitalization, the "Digital Harbor" package or other improvements.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat, said she was pleased with the governor's commitment and the flexibility it gives the city.

Morrill said Glendening is concerned the city will spread the money over too many projects.

Also included is $1 million to help demolish Strathdale Manor. The 123-unit apartment complex in Northeast Baltimore has been vacant for four years. City officials want to clear the 18-acre site for development.

Coppin State College in West Baltimore also received a boost. The budget includes $5.8 million for a new dining facility and to demolish the old Lutheran Hospital.

The state's attorney's office received nearly $2 million to add prosecutors and support staff to prosecute violent crimes.

The General Assembly received $22.7 million to complete work on the new Senate office building and to build an addition to the House office building.

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