1208-Deehan-GBH_Mental_privitization-WRAP_0.mp3

A governor's lot is predictable: praised one day, damned the next.

A day after being praised by Democrats and Republicans alike for his rejection of Donald Trump's comments about banning Muslims from entering the U.S., Gov. Charlie Baker is under fire from state workers who say he's cutting too much from the state's mental health care budget.

During his campaign for the corner office last year, Baker called this kind of disagreement between administrators and government workers "constructive friction."

Health care workers picketed the governor's appearance at an evening forum on the opiate epidemic. The front-line clinicians want Baker to reverse his plan to privatize emergency mental health services in the southeastern part of the state.

"Going private is not the way," said Brenda Venice, the Bristol chapter leader of the National Alliance on Mental Health, and a mother from Fall River with mentally ill children who have used state services. "It must stay the way it is. It will be devastating for the whole southeast area to disrupt it and make it go into private [contracts]."

Baker's plan to use private providers would save the state about $6.4 million, and his administration insists services won't change — even with state employee layoffs.

“The carefully crafted proposal to contract ESP services in the Southeast will deliver the highest level of care possible and will bring this area program in line with the way these services are now delivered in the rest of the state," Michelle Hillman, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services wrote in a statement.

The privatization plan still needs to be approved by the state auditor before it can go forward. And expect similar skirmishes across state government as Baker rolls out his budget plan for next year.

In the meantime, the Department of Mental Health will maintain existing emergency services in the area until Auditor Suzanne Bump makes a decision and private contracts are awarded.

Baker won an early victory against entrenched state worker unions this summer when he managed to get the Legislature to sign off on an expansion of his ability to privatize services for the MBTA as part of that agency's fiscal overhaul.

Now health care workers fear Baker's agenda will include more attempts to reach better bottom lines by removing high-earning and union-protected state employees.

"I say it's clear what his priorities are," Phil McCartin, a substance abuse specialist with the Department of Mental Health in Brockton, told WGBH News. "He wants to, and he believes in, privatizing all mental health services. I frankly don't believe in that. I believe that for treatment of the seriously mentally ill, the homeless at the bottom of the safety net, you need to give people a living wage and the right kind of benefits to support them in doing the dangerous kind of work like we do."

It's an open question whether next year's budget cycle is going to be any easier on the state's limited coffers than the current one. Revenue collection, our earliest tip-off about how much money the state is going to have to spend next year, are up over estimates. But many on Beacon Hill see replenishing the rainy day fund as crucial, putting an additional stress factor on top of the usual clamoring hordes of interests and programs all looking for their piece of the pie.