Appeal on cuts to disabled heartfelt, but misdirected

Appeal on cuts to disabled heartfelt, but misdirected

Everyone’s heart and admiration go out to people that, like Muriel and Brian Newton with their daughter Jennifer, have raised a child with Down Syndrome. And their plea for a stop to further cuts to agencies serving disabled adults (“Cuts to disabled taking toll on those in need,” March 29, 2018) is both clearly articulated and well taken. However, their ire at supposedly heartless legislators is not directed properly.

If Rhode Island has cut discretionary spending to those agencies by 40 percent since 2007, and proposes cutting another 18 percent, it’s because it has no choice. Non-discretionary mandates are out of control, consuming an ever-larger share of the state budget. By far the largest culprits are Medicaid (the state’s 43 percent share costs us more than a billion dollars a year) and annual appropriations for lifetime state-retiree pensions and health care (at another half-billion dollars, grossly underfunded relative to liabilities).

While we aren’t in as poor a structural position as, for instance, Connecticut and New Jersey, like them Rhode Island is in a death spiral, with ever-ballooning mandatory costs crowding out what most residents view as traditional government services, and being piled on fewer and fewer taxpayers that can and will vote with their feet. This isn’t to suggest that Medicaid recipients and state retirees are somehow evil – that’s just silly – but the math is inexorable. If someone qualifies, the state must pay.

So if Mr. and Mrs. Newton would like to direct their advocacy towards root causes instead of unfortunate effects, they might petition their legislators to enact truly serious Medicaid eligibility and state employee benefit reforms. (And by the way, I hope their suggestion that instead more 911 and gas tax proceeds be “scooped” was simply a rhetorical flourish).

Again, their passion for our fellow R.I. citizens with developmental disabilities is exceptionally laudable. But let them please aim more effectively. Keep up the good work!

Mike Speidel