The Governor’s Office of Child Care Coordination has sent an email alert asking supporters to bombard the senators with complaints. The office spends about $5 million annually—a little more than $2 million of which is state dollars.
“The infant mortality programs will cease to exist. When they cut our office, they cut all that money,” says the director, Bob Duncan.
He tells Pith he had no idea Republicans even were thinking about closing his office in their budget-balancing plan. They floated their plan last week, rejecting all Gov. Phil Bredesen's tax and fee increases and making deeper cuts in the recession-battered budget instead. But they haven’t talked about it much since then and don’t seem anxious to bring it to a vote, even though they control the Senate and can pass anything they want. It's left the legislature in the lurch. The session is running more than a month behind the leadership's stated adjournment goal with no end in sight.
“I got a phone call that said, 'Guess what? They just eliminated your office from the budget.' That’s the first I’d heard of it,” Duncan says. And still, not a single Republican senator has tried to speak to Duncan about it.
Tennessee is 47th worst in the country in the rate of deaths of babies, but Duncan says the state has made progress since Bredesen started this office in 2004 to manage the programs and make sure the money is spent wisely.
“The numbers we’re seeing are headed in a positive direction,” Duncan says. “That’s a testament to show that some of our programs are working. We don’t want to stop that momentum that’s taking place.”
We tried to phone Senate Republicans about this today and they didn't call back. Something tells us they don't want to talk about it.
Even as Ramsey was cutting infant mortality programs, another prominent Tennessee Republican—Rep. Marsha Blackburn—was asking Congress to increase funding for prenatal education and care. She called infant mortality "a tragedy that all Tennessee mourns." How's that for irony?