A packed audience came to see the five democratic candidates for governor talk about developmental and mental health and substance abuse, Monday night, during a debate moderated by Channel 3's Kristin Carlson and sponsored by mental health groups. The topics were personal for the audience who deal with the issues every day.
"They depend on this public resource. It's very critical to their lives and well-being," said Julie Tessler, Executive Director of the Vermont Council for Developmental and Mental Health Services.
Mental health treatment services have seen funding cuts in recent years and face a proposed five percent cut in the coming fiscal year. State Senator Doug Race is most adamantly against those cuts and suggests the state use its rainy day fund or raise new revenue through taxes.
"I don't believe our values are negotiable just because we happen to be in difficult times," Racine said. "I'm finding the cuts in mental health, the proposed cuts, are simply unacceptable."
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin used the topic as an opportunity to re-enforce his plan to keep non-violent offenders out of prison.
"I will ensure that instead of spending 40 to 70 thousand dollars a year locking those folks up, we have the most aggressive, thoughtful mental health delivery system, substance abuse treatment system, education system to get these people back in the workforce, and then we utilize those dollars saved so we don't have to slash and burn our community based system," said Shumlin.
Senator Susan Bartlett says she sees mental health as just one part of the overall healthcare system. She understands funding cuts in tough times but says a collaboration of people can find a way to keep services strong.
"Have some real creative opportunities as way to who hires, who draws down more money, and how we actually succeed in getting more money into the system. but I guarantee you we will not pass a budget that leaves you by the side of the road," said Bartlett.
Former State Senator Matt Dunne also wants to pull together people to improve the mental health system.
"The model we have set up in this state allows for ideal public, private partnerships there are opportunities in this state for people who care about these issues to develop new approaches and measure how they work," Dunne Said.
Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says mental health is just another one of the areas that she can improve through better state leadership, including new commissioners and department secretaries.
"What we need to do to get back on track is to get mission focused managers into office, get the politics out of it, think about people first and that's what I'm going to bring to office," said Markowitz.
The candidates will all face off again Tuesday night during another debate at UVM.
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