Originally created 06/19/03

A welcome bailout



Rep. Sue Burmeister may well be the Georgia legislature's most vehement foe of pork barrel spending, even voting against projects for her own hometown.

So, when the Augusta Republican favors spending state revenues on something, you have to know it must be important.

Hence, Gov. Sonny Perdue can be sure he did the right thing when he erased a regional mental health center's deficit with a $900,000 bailout.

The Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia isn't strictly local; it serves seven counties. Thus, it should count as a state responsibility as much as a regional one, especially since it's the sole provider of outpatient services for thousands of mostly indigent Georgians.

The center also looks after 120 or so developmentally disabled people, providing them living quarters and caseworkers to take them shopping and to teach them skills to care for themselves.

The center fell into disrepute earlier this year when a whistle-blower exposed favoritism, cronyism and possible corruption in letting contracts for the center that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than necessary.

The facility is still under investigation on several fronts, so its woes are by no means over, but the executives who were in charge during the cronyism phase have been fired, and new management has already taken many steps to clean up the corruptive stench, including whittling what was once a $2 million deficit down to less than a million, which the governor's bailout took care of.

This means for now, at least, the center's patients and workers who had nothing to do with causing the deficit crisis will not have to unfairly pay the penalty for it via unpaid layoffs and poorer quality of services.

"We don't have to look at furloughs. We don't have to look at cutting services," says Burmeister. "That ($900,000) will get us through."

She and other members of the Augusta legislative delegation, along with boosts by state Department of Resources Commissioner Jim Martin and Karl Schwarzkopf, state mental health agency director, are to be applauded for obtaining the bailout.

Though it is wholly justified, it could not have been easy to convince a skeptical governor grappling with one of the worst revenue crises in decades to come across with nearly a million dollars for a mental health facility that was mired in scandal.

We're sure glad they did.