By Karen Stokes
Wisconsin’s Joint Committee on Finance met to discuss the 2015-2017 budget on Public Health and Service issues.
The committee approved Republican Governor Scott Walker’s budget request to cut $732,000 in grants providing treatments for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) prevention.
The Republican majority committee accepted the Governor’s plan for alternative funding coming from an $8.7 million account for mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Democrats and Republicans debated on whether the program is a priority and exactly where the funding should come from.
Democrats believe in sustaining the program because it’s important for the state of Wisconsin due to an epidemic on drunk driving. They also feel that proper funding of the program and early intervention cannot only prevent more tragedies linked to drunk driving but can save the state money.
The most recent statistics on drunk driving in Wisconsin available on the www.wisconsin.gov website show that alcohol consumption contributed to 2,097 alcohol related injuries in car crashes and 223 traffic deaths.
The Department of Transportation estimated the cost of alcohol-related crashes in Wisconsin have been over $450 million in 2012.
Fatality, incapacitating injury, non-incapacitating injury and property damage all factor in to the economic loss.
Economic loss is determined using national cost estimates obtained from the National Safety Council.
Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) mentioned that a prevention program in Waukesha County saved $1.2 million in drunk driving issues.
She mentioned the huge economic cost of drunk drivers in Wisconsin as well as the cost in human lives.
“This is a critical issue, we must fund this,” Rep. Taylor said.
“If you don’t pass this program, you are passing the buck on human safety. This program saves money and lives.”
“This affects public safety. Only a quarter of people with substance abuse receive services,” said Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).
“The governor has failed to move public safety in a productive way.”
“Is this program a priority or not? If it’s a priority, we should fund it,” Representative Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said.
Republicans sided with Gov. Walker. They support the program and believe if the it does not have adequate funding, the Department of Human Services (DHS) can come back and ask for funds.
“When a drunk driver is arrested, this person is assessed.
I think this is a good service and I support Governor Walker,” said Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).
According to Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette), the DHS will assess the program’s efficiency and assures that if it’s work is deemed effective, it will continue to receive funding.