By Lyle Hillyard
Senate Chair of Executive Appropriations
I have been really surprised at the sarcastic and negative messages I have received for what is perceived as the inhumane action of the Executive Appropriations Committee for failing to approve the grant in our last meeting. I wonder where are the mothers like mine that taught me that you get more flies with honey than vinegar but I am going to disregard the meanness of some of the comments and vote to approve the funding at our next meeting - as long as the questions raised can be answered satisfactorily.
Let me share some background for the committee action from my perspective that may better explain what happened than was reported in the news and blog world. First, we normally have Executive Appropriations once a month on the day before regular interim. Not only have we cut our wages as legislators and limited travel expenses, we also furloughed two months of legislative interim meetings to save money. Those months are April and July. We could not complete the approval of an RFP to study the economic advantages and disadvantages of privatizing the forensic units of the State Mental Hospital and the Developmental Center so we set that hearing before the Executive Appropriations Committee just before the Management Committee meets right after the session ends which ended up on April 6th.
The Management Committee must meet to review the requested items for interim study and assign them to the appropriate subcommittee so staff can be working on the agendas with the committee co-chairs. Executive Appropriations only has a few more members so we could hold the meetings the same day with very little additional costs to the State. Less than a week before the meeting, I suggested that we not only approve the RFP but that we also handle as many other items as possible because we would not be meeting again until mid May. One of the items added to the agenda was the review and approval of these grants. Because of the shortness of the time, we did not have time to send each member of the committee a list of the items so that they could review them before the meeting and raise any questions. When that was brought out during the presentation, we decided to not seek approval of any of the items until our first regular meeting which was mid-May.
I asked if there were any items that could not wait and that brought this onslaught that the Ryan White funding had to be done or people would die. No one had raised that issue and had I not in passing asked to do something other than the approval of the RFP; Executive Appropriations would not have even seen the list until then. The Governor’s office came up after and apologized that they had missed it as well. Dr. Sundwall reported back to our committee before we adjourned that he had money enough within his budget that he would see that no one was cut off from needed medication until we could meet and in the interim, he would have staff fully research the issues raised and answer them well before our next meeting.
True to his word, I have received that information and find it complete except for some concerns about what the new health care bill will do and I don’t think any one will fully know that for some months. In light of the circumstances, I thought we worked out a good solution and it became a non-problem.
I expect that in our meeting on May 18th that we will either approve the grant or have appropriate information on what our alternatives are and what each alternative means to the people who need this medication and to the Utah taxpayers whose money will be spent. We were told that this does involve a state match, for which we have already budgeted, and will require no new tax dollars unless there is a change within the new Federal law.