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Trick or treat? Nope, says the government. April fools!

Posted Feb 16 2010 7:12am
You gotta wonder when a governor says he's going take a pumpkin scooper to a state budget, and scrape so much out that there's nothing left but the mushy skin.

Well, welcome to New Jersey, where it's Halloween year-round because the state's fiscal picture is a never-ending horror show.

Every year, it's the same thing: Governors somehow find money for programs they can't pay for. Or they cut money for programs that people need. Or they double-talk people into telling them that they didn't raise their taxes when, in actuality, they did just that (trick or treat!).

This year, New Jersey's Governor Christie has a laundry list of things he's slashing with his large budget axe. There will be cuts to state aid to schools (geez, you gotta wonder if that's going to lead to property tax increases, no?). There will be cuts to higher education.

And, of course, there will be cuts to everybody's favorite target: Aid to services that care for the disabled and the ill.

Take New Jersey’s reductions of reimbursement rates to pharmacies serving Medicaid beneficiaries. As a result, small pharmacies won’t carry all prescriptions and patients will be discouraged from getting them filled.

Any increase in state revenue from co-pays would be dwarfed by the inevitable costs of emergency treatment, hospitalization and other services to treat individuals whose conditions worsen because they discontinue medications, Debra L. Wentz, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, Inc.

“Co-pays and reimbursement reductions impose a barrier for individuals who already struggle to pay for rent, food and utilities," Wentz said. "The state should not further burden them with co-pays, forcing them to choose between prescriptions and other needs."

Ultimately, untreated mental illness, whether due to an individual’s inability to pay for medications or lack of access to treatment, inevitably costs the state billions of dollars every year.

As a result, the state loses approximately $5.6 billion each year in lost productivity.

“In these difficult economic times, funding for any type of program or social service could be on the table as a potential budgetary cut," Wentz said. "It is unconscionable to force individuals with mental illness to forego treatment and face dire consequences in their lives, which can include not only hospitalizations, but also homelessness or incarcerations – and these consequences are also very costly to the state."

It's the kind of thing that makes me feel like we're living in a world of helplessness, that the only solution to everything is to cut, cut, cut until the backbone of society breaks in half. We look for inspiration in our political leaders; instead, we're left as victims of fiscal larceny, forced to give back when we really need to give more.

I've been listening a lot to the legendary comedian Bill Hicks lately. Bill died at 32 of pancreatic cancer, but he left a mark as one of the greatest stand-ups of all time.

Bill patterned his act after Richard Pryor: Neither of them claimed to tell jokes for a living. Instead, they said, they were just talking. They talked off the top of their heads, and much of what they had to say was cynical. But, mostly, Hicks' commentary, mixed with absurdity, was thought-provoking and on-target.

I'm no socialist, but his proposal for curing the world's ills, in the below video, makes more and more sense the more I listen to it, and the more I see failure in the eyes of society.

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