Cutback proposals totaling nearly $20 million were carved out of the budgets of the state's most people-oriented service agencies — the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services.

To meet the 3 percent cut required of most budget subcommittees, Human Services was trimmed by $8.9 million and the Department of Health by $11.2 million.

Administrators for both departments combined one-time and ongoing reductions in making their recommendations. For example, increases to care providers such as doctors and dentists who treat Medicaid patients scheduled to take effect next year will be rolled back, saving the health department $2.5 million.

The funding had been intended to make up the difference between what services cost and what the joint state/federal insurance plan pays for the poor. Medicaid pays roughly 47 percent of what physicians charge. The decision will likely continue to cause doctors to refuse to see Medicaid patients, although committee co-chairman and dentist Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, said providers are cognizant of the budget shortfall and "we will do our part."

Local substance-abuse prevention and treatment programs will save about $2.1 million in human services. Mental health programs on the chopping block earlier were not cut as dramatically by the end of the day.

Any cuts are difficult and could be financially costly down the road, administrators told lawmakers, noting that prevention and service programs that keep families together who are going through abuse-treatment plans is worth a pound of cure. Problems that are caught early, such as intervention with minor drug offenders, can literally save the state millions in the long run because people's families stay intact and many are averted from committing bigger crimes.

Funding for disabled Utahns on a services waiting list is to be trimmed by $300,000. That means 55 people who were to receive services will not, if legislators on Friday approve the recommendations forwarded by the committee.

The cutbacks were approved but not wholly endorsed by committee members.

Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, voted in favor of the recommendations but not before voicing frustration that the departments were being asked to shoulder a far bigger burden than other agencies, particularly the largest single agency, public education, which Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said is to be held harmless.

"A 3 percent cutback wouldn't be needed if other departments were doing their share," Litvack said, noting that while health and human services toiled late into the afternoon, "the education committee has already gone home. They have new programs that they're starting, and they aren't being asked to hold off or cut them back."

Litvack said he also resented lawmakers being rushed through their decisions.

Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, said the cutbacks are difficult and do affect people's lives, "but haste makes a painful job easier. We've made the best projections we can give. I have great empathy for those affected, but I'm satisfied that when it's done we'll have served our state well."


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com