Overcome or Stay Lost in the Fog 

Photo by Don Pogreba

Can legislators come together to overcome cuts that will imperil Montanans today and far into future generations?

The forecast is foggy.  Legislative leaders Austin Knudsen (R, Culbertson), Greg Hertz (R, Big Fork), Ron Ehli (R, Hamilton), and Fred Thomas (R, Stevensville) call the governor’s efforts to educate Montanans about the cuts facing our state by January 2018 “repugnant.”  They contend the governor should just cut $227 million from Helena, but can’t provide one idea where in Helena.

Repugnant to ask Montanans to become more involved in their government.  Repugnant to worry about what will happen to disabled children who need special attention as toddlers so they can succeed in life.  Repugnant to advocate for disabled and aging citizens who will lose their in-home assistance and end up in much more costly institutional care.  Repugnant to worry about critical care hospitals that will be endangered by state cuts.  Repugnant to be concerned that already overburdened college students will be stung with potential 19% tuition increases to attend college in Montana.  Repugnant for citizens to participate in their democracy.  Really?

Fiscal responsibility is not created by overestimating revenues.  Montana House of Representatives Tax Committee (12 Republicans to 8 Democrats) adopted a revenue estimate that was $100 million higher than the governor’s projection.  The Republican dominated legislature funded programs based on that overly optimistic projection.  In the last days of the legislature, they pushed through Senate Bill 261 which mandated cuts to school, health care and fire funds if revenue came in low.

Montana law states that the governor cannot cut more than 10% from state agencies when the legislature is not in session.  Senate Bill 261 mandated staff and program cuts that when added to the 10% cuts the Republicans want the governor to make without legislative review, total nearly 15%.

The legislature needs to come into a special session to address more than $70 million expended on our devastating fire season and to address the overly optimistic revenue projections adopted by the Republican majority.

Representative Nancy Ballance (R, Hamilton) chaired the Interim Finance Committee last month and the House Appropriation Committee during the 2017 session.  The Interim Finance Committee listened over two days to some of the more than 150 Montanans who came to testify how the cuts would impact their families, communities and businesses.  Representative Ballance along with fellow interim committee member Senator Eric Moore (R, Miles City) have publicly stated short-term tax increases are needed to address potential cuts.

Montanans, let’s thank Republicans who care more about the fate of Montanans than about making the governor look bad no matter how Montanans are impacted.  Democrats are ready to come to the table and listen to the concerns and needs of Montanans.  Let’s insist Republicans like Senator Fred Thomas, who brought Montana term limits (but is the longest serving legislator currently in office) and energy deregulation (which caused the collapse of major Montana employers and deprived many Montanans of their life savings), do their duty and work in a special session to address Montana government’s financial problems and save programs and jobs so critical to Montana.  Insist they abandon their contention that it is repugnant for Montanans to participate in their government.

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About the author

Sue Malek

Sue Malek is a second term senator in the Montana legislature. She retired after 24 years managing an academic advising office at UM. She served as president of the UM staff union for two years and chair of the Missoula City Government Study Commission for another two years. Public service is a way of life, she says.

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Sue MalekMary Ann DunwellGreg StrandbergPete TalbotJames Conner Recent comment authors
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James Conner
Pete Talbot

Would you flesh that comment out a bit, please, James? It was a mix of party votes with many other Democrats voting for it.

James Conner

In my 2 October post at Flathead Memo, I wrote “The vote looks bipartisan, and by some definitions was, but in the MT Senate, Democrats had the option to kill the bill, which had only 25 Republican supporters. Twelve Democrats came to Jones’ rescue.” http://www.flatheadmemo.com/archives_2017/october_2017/2017-10-02_gov_cuts.html At that post, there’s a link to my spreadsheet that breaks down the vote by yeas and nays, legislative chamber and political party. If Malek and the rest of the Democrats in the MT Senate had stuck together, they could have killed SB-261. Instead, they kept it alive. Why? They’ve got some explaining to do.… Read more »

Greg Strandberg
Greg Strandberg

James, I don’t think the Montana Democrats are interested in applying accountability to their own.

Pete Talbot

Not being a fly on the wall, James, during the Montana Senate’s caucus meetings, I can’t be sure what transpired. Perhaps it was just bad coordination and vote management, but some of the smartest people and those I respect the most in that chamber — Dick Barrett, JP Pomnichowski, Mike Phillips, for example — voted for it. There must have been some sort of game plan.

Oh, and Greg, thanks for another of your keen observations on the inner workings of the Democratic Party hierarchy of which you are so familiar.

James Conner

Note the date of the vote. The game plan may have been kicking the can to the governor so that legislators could adjourn and go home.

Mary Ann Dunwell
Mary Ann Dunwell

I do believe all of us democrats in House Tax voted NO on the GOP pie-in-the-sky-high revenue estimate. In addition, many of us voted NO on SB 261. Thank you. Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-HD 84, Helena/East Helena.

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