The state budget passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor contained some good news for Gila County finances: Relief from the rapidly growing costs of the state long-term care system, known as ALTCS.
Senator Jake Flake (District 5) championed the effort, which will save Gila County close to $1 million in its FY06-07 budget. Just as importantly, his legislation will protect the county against unpredictable cost increases associated with ALTCS in future years.
The state-managed ALTCS program provides long-term health care to indigent Arizonans, either in nursing homes or home based care. Counties have no control over the program, but each year the state sends us a bill to help pay for it. Because of an archaic funding mechanism, Gila County pays more on a per capita basis than any other county in the state, and almost 60 percent more than the statewide average.
Senator Flake saw that Gila County was being treated unfairly and proposed to address the problem by sponsoring S.B. 1299. When the bill made it to the House of Representatives, his District 5 colleagues, Representatives Jack Brown and Bill Konopnicki stepped up and argued for its passage in their chamber.
For months, the bill was in limbo, resisted by several legislators from Maricopa County, but the trio never gave up and demanded the issue go to the governor's desk, where she signed it into law. The new law will reduce Gila County's projected ALTCS burden by 28 percent next year.
As an elected official serving in local government, I am sometimes distressed at the lack of attention paid to rural problems by a Maricopa County dominated legislature. More often, though, I am inspired by the influence Senator Flake and his District 5 seatmates bring to bear at the state capitol.
Every year, our state delegation works hard on behalf of local constituents. The passage of S.B. 1299 adds to their long list of accomplishments.
Tommie Cline Martin, Gila County Supervisor, District 1