Hood, Reeves clash over state losing mental health lawsuit

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Attorney General Jim Hood face each other in the Nov. 5 general election for governor.

Attorney General Jim Hood, the Democratic nominee for governor, says if his Republican opponent – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves – had listened to his warnings in 2013 the state would not have been found liable by a federal judge this week of not providing the mandated community-based services for mentally ill patients.

“This is not politics. It is economics,” Hood said recently during a news conference from his office in the Sillers state office building after this week’s ruling against the state.

The issue of U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruling against the state with plans to appoint a special master to help the state enact community-based services for the mentally ill is just the latest instance where the two gubernatorial candidates are clashing in advance of the November general election.

The Democratic attorney general, whose office defended the state in the trial in front of the federal judge, said he was handed “a losing case” because the Legislature had enacted so many tax cuts, resulting in the state not having enough funds to take care of its vital needs.

“I have tried to tell them on many occasions if you don’t put the money up now it will cost more down the road. While they are taking credit for tax cuts, they are just buying time and kicking the can down the road,” Hood said.

Parker Briden, a spokesman for Reeves, said, “Like the rest of the national Democrats, Hood will find a way to blame Republicans for every problem under the sun for the next two months. This blame game is just more partisan politics from a liberal Democrat.”

Lt. Gov. Reeves has said the tax cuts that Hood has been criticizing has helped grow the economy and has made Mississippi more competitive with other states in recruiting economic development projects.

Hood provided copies of letters sent to Reeves and other legislative leaders providing details of the cost of similar legislation in other states and said a lawsuit could be avoided in Mississippi if the Legislature would begin providing funds to address the mental health issue.

Federal law mandates that services be provided to the mentally ill in community settings  when appropriate.

In the letters, Hood informed legislators of $267 million in lawsuit settlements funds his office had received over the years that could be used to address the issue. He also recommended in at least one letter the use of federal funds from expanding Medicaid.

Reeves has opposed Hood’s efforts to expand Medicaid to provide health care coverage – primarily with federal funds – for the working poor.

“We have had options..,” Hood said. “All they (Legislators) did was give all our money away. They buried their heads in the sand.

“That is what Tate Reeves has done the whole time he has sat over there as lieutenant governor. All he has done is to give away our tax money to out of state corporations so they would give him campaign contributions. And in has worked.”

Hood said the Legislature appropriated $20 million to deal with the issue over a two year period. But he said the next year as the more than 50 tax cuts passed by the Legislature kicked in, forcing budget cuts, legislators stopped proving funds to increase its community-based services for the mentally ill. After layoffs of more than 500 at the Department of Mental Health, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its lawsuit against the state.

Judge Reeves head arguments in the case earlier this year.

Hood said the lawsuit is costing the state millions of dollars because, as the losing party, the state is responsible for paying attorneys’ fees.

He cited an earlier lawsuit against the state’s foster care system where the issues could have been fixed for about $22 million. But Hood said the state did not fix the problems, resulting in the state losing the lawsuit and being responsible for $21 million in attorneys’ fees in addition to still having to fix the problem.