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Programs that serve the severely mentally ill and drug addicted are being cut to make way for tax cuts for the wealthyThe Mississippi Department of Mental Health could face $23 million in cuts this year, according to Democratic Representative Tom Miles. That’s up from the $11.1 million in cuts that the state already approved.
The cuts come as the state struggles with declining revenues. And those declining revenues come from one source: Tax cuts, primarily designed to benefit corporations and the state’s top 5% of income earners.
Mississippi was already struggling with declining revenues last year when Governor Phil Bryant signed the largest tax cut in Mississippi history – a $415 million reduction over the next four years.
Like the $350 million in tax cuts Bryant signed in his first term, the majority of this one goes to the state’s highest earners and to corporations. The lowest earning 20% of taxpayers – those making $16,000 or less – get a paltry $14 tax cut each.
Those who benefit the most, naturally, are business groups. A full $260 million of those cuts are due to the phasing out of the franchise tax, which big business has long lobbied politicians for.
Even as that massive $415 million tax cut was being signed last year, the State Hospital at Whitfield – which serves patients with severe mental disorders – had to cut 29 beds that serve hundreds each year from its facilities.But the $415 million tax cut Bryant signed in 2016 doesn’t even go in effect until 2018, meaning services that provide for the state’s most vulnerable could see even harsher cuts in the years ahead. Today’s revenue crisis stems from tax cuts signed in Bryant’s first term.
While Republicans in the state government express their ritual sorrow over the statewide budget cuts every year, I think Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s description earlier this year of their party’s true motivations is about right:
“It’s not that they’re mean spirited and they don’t care about these people, I don’t think,” Hood said. They came down here on a mission. They were elected to office to cut government, choke government off, and cut taxes. And governing and protecting victims, that’s second.”
A way out – but will Mississippi take it?
For his part, Jim Hood has offered legislators a way to continue funding the state’s Mental Health Department. On March 23, he announced that his office had delivered over $34.4 million in recovered funds to the state’s treasury and urged legislators to appropriate $7 million to the Department of Mental Health.
This would be enough, he said, to reopen a chemical dependency unit that treated those suffering with drug addiction, which was closed after last year’s budget cuts. These programs, Hood pointed out, help bring down crime and keep people out of prison.In his statement, Hood cited a letter from a nurse who asked him for help for her 22-year-old son who suffers from drug addiction:
“He was admitted to a community chemical dependency unit. He stayed 7 days. He was allowed to walk out after a familiar person was there as a speaker and he spiraled into mental breakdown and walked away.
“There is a need for Mississippi State Hospital Chemical Dependency unit for those unwilling participants. At the present, there is no place to help these guys. My son will end up in a correctional facility without the necessary medical help to become and stay sober. It is wrong to jail these individuals for their addiction causing behavior without addressing the addiction itself.”
But just days after Hood announced the recovered funds and made the request, cuts to the state’s Department of Mental Health rose from $11.1 million to $23 million.
Governor Bryant and the state’s Republicans are very fond of touting their “Christian values” when it comes to opposing abortion and gay rights. They love making a show of their Christianity by doing things like appearing at the groundbreakings of massive 110-foot crosses on the side of state highways. But where are those “Christian values” they are so proud of when it comes to caring for the most vulnerable – the ones Jesus called, “the least of these”?
It’s nowhere in sight.