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EDITORIAL: Funding crisis solution lies with legislators

The St. Croix County Board and the county's Health and Human Services Board have taken a lot of heat in recent weeks for their debate related to the future of St. Croix Industries, the county-run vocational program serving adults with disabilities.

Officials have been leaning toward getting out of the vocational services businesses, due in large part to an expected $1.6 million deficit at St. Croix Industries over the next three years.

The budget crunch will become reality within the year, when the state aid for clients served by St. Croix Industries drops from the current $9.91 per hour down to $7 per hour.

Any business, whether under the county's operational umbrella or run by a private entity, would have a difficult time surviving under such a funding cut.

It's not the county's fault that tough choices are on the horizon for St. Croix Industries. It is, instead, the fault of legislators, the governor and Department of Health Services officials who have created a service management system designed to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the state budget at the expense of those who can't fight for themselves.

The state has divided up the pot of money allocated for the state's Family Care program to managed care organizations across the state. The managed care organizations, including Southwest Family Care which serves this western Wisconsin region, are left to do the dirty work of forcing program cuts and consolidations.

Area group homes are already dealing with the fallout of such funding cuts. Some have closed up shop, and others are having to cut employee pay and benefits, thus creating a situation where employee turnover is inevitable.

The system is designed in such a way, it appears, to maximize the ability of state officials to deflect blame. And naturally the blame ends up on the shoulders of those closest to those providing the service -- the county.

While county officials aren't really to blame for the mess, those backing a plan to transfer the St. Croix Industries operations to a private agency are fooling themselves if they think a program of equal or better quality will be the end the result.

When you replace higher paid, long-time employees with lower-paid staffers, very rarely is the change a step in a positive direction.

If St. Croix Industries supporters really want to ensure the long term survival of the top notch program, they should be sharing their displeasure with state employees and lawmakers. They are the ones who created the funding gap, and they are likely the only ones who can solve it.