Ritter unveils cuts to prisons, medical programs | AspenTimes.com

Ritter unveils cuts to prisons, medical programs

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter on Tuesday laid out his plan to cut $320 million from the state budget this year, including the elimination of up to 266 state employees, and cuts to medical programs and prison services.

Ritter said he did his best to protect critical programs necessary for public safety and welfare, but tough cuts had to be made. He also said he protected programs needed to help Coloradans who are struggling because of the economy.

“There is a lot of sacrifice that Colorado residents will be making,” he told the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.

Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, asked how people will be kept safe if the state reduces its mandatory five-year parole requirement for felons. Ritter assured lawmakers the public would not be at risk.

“There’s pretty good evidence a five-year mandatory parole is actually too long,” said Ritter, a former Denver district attorney. “A person fails or makes it in the first two or three years.”

Ritter plans to issue an executive order that will take effect Sept. 1, but he will need legislative approval for some of his proposals, including a $10.50 fee for background checks for gun purchases. He said some of the state funds could be replaced with federal stimulus funding and other budget transfers.

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Hardest hit are the departments of Corrections, Health Care Policy and Financing, and Human Services.

Ritter proposed cutting $25 million from corrections, including the elimination of 34 jobs providing academic and vocational training for about 2,000 new inmates, and programs for mental health and substance abuse. About $19 million would be saved by providing a shorter parole term for offenders who achieve their parole goals early.

Hospital provider rates would be cut 1.5 percent and non-medical transportation would be limited to two trips a week.

Pharmacy rates for medication would also be slashed, saving $1.7 million, and a 32-bed nursing facility in Grand Junction would be closed after those patients are shipped to community nursing facilities.

A program that provides $200 a month to 6,400 needy and disabled people while they wait for federal assistance would also be suspended Jan. 1.

Ritter said under the plan, critical programs would be protected, and he promised there will be no reduction in the number of medically indigent patients being served. He also said senior services, including meals-on-wheels and other programs, would be protected.

Ritter said state parks would remain open, but the state will charge increased user fees and some areas may be closed.

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