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Republicans Bankrupted Montana Budget with Purposely False Revenue Projections

Senate Bill 261, Medicaid Cuts, go into effect March 1st

Republicans want you to believe they didn’t make up a fake revenue estimate to lead the state into a manufactured budget crisis. They want you to believe that state revenues are higher than what budget analyst is projecting.

Revenues to the state continue to be far below the Republican’s fabricated $100 million dollar revenue estimate they made up last April. $60 million in revenue was transferred to the general fund during the Special Session because Democrats forced the Republicans to fix their budget mess. But, the state is still well below the revenue projection Republicans created out of thin air.

Senator Llew Jones, the Senate Finance Chairman, keeps telling everyone to be patient and wait for the “Trump Bump” and then we’ll see revenues increase. He claims that this $60 million in revenue transfers, plus the early tax filings by Montanans is good enough for Bullock to offset their mandated cuts. NOPE. It’s not even close. Revenues continue to be well below the Republican’s projections. If the state follows the Republican’s line of thinking, we’ll be totally bankrupt in short time.

But, Senator Jones and Budget Chair Nancy Ballance already know this. On top of the cuts Republicans made during the Specials Session, they also passed Senate Bill 261, back in April, to make draconian cuts to the Department of Public Health and Human Services(DPHHS) when their false revenue estimate failed to come in. This bill slashes DPHHS funding across the board, exactly what the Republicans wanted all along. It is all a shell game to them, not responsible fiscal management.

The Billings Gazette:

“Back in June, Montanans heard about the first budget cuts triggered by lower-than-projected state revenues. The onerous reductions were mandated in Senate Bill 261, a 42-page compilation of budget adjustments for multiple departments.

The state budget overestimated revenue, so the deepest spending cuts in SB261 are required. They fall hardest on health and human services, targeting case management, which is a relatively inexpensive service that helps seriously mentally ill and other disabled Montana children and adults navigate between doctor and therapy visits. Basically, good case management makes all treatment work more effectively. SB261 slashed $1 million from case management, and now will require a further rate cut.”

The Republican-majority passed this 42 page across the board cut bill for when their phony revenue claims fell flat. When Montana did not experience the unprecedented growth from Trump’s economy, SB 261 kicked in.

This 2.99% reduction to provider rates is on top of the permanent cuts made by Republicans during the Special Session to case management services for mental health, seniors, the disabled and high cost dental care.

With all the hemming and hawing we hear from Republicans, this is exactly what they wanted. They voted for SB 261 and to permanently cut the state budget during the Special Session. By making these cuts permanent, the Governor can’t even backfill the cuts if more revenue magically comes in. And it’s not.

Republicans are pretending they are conservatives with a heart, and want the Governor to backfill the cuts they made with money the state doesn’t have. Very fiscally irresponsible of them. Even if the state had revenues coming in higher than projected, which they are not, the Governor’s hands are tied. He cannot backfill permanent cuts made by Montana Republicans, it will take an act of the legislature to reverse the cuts they voted in.

The Billings Gazette:

“The legislation approved in the November special session did nothing to stave off the Medicaid rate cuts. The Legislature and governor had to make an additional $76 million in spending reductions in November, along with making some transfers to balance the budget.”

The revenue shortfall is a Montana problem that should unite our leaders to find equitable, prudent, compassionate remedies. Bullock and Montana lawmakers have much work to do.”

Governor Bullock and Democrats have been saying this since the start of 2017—Montana has a revenue problem, not a spending problem. During the 2017 Session and the November Special Session, Republicans refused to accept this reality. There is very little “bureaucracy” left for Republicans to cut because they’ve been cutting state offices ever since the Tea Party wave of 2010. Instead of taking steps to update Montana’s tax system and address revenue shortfalls, the Republican Legislature chose to make across the board cuts to DPHHS, make them permanent, and make Montanans suffer for political gain.

More from The Billings Gazette:

“If the legislative majority’s highest priority is to avoid increases in taxes, lawmakers should be honest and clear about what jobs and services they will eliminate to balance the budget.

It’s the job of our elected leaders to take the time to identify efficiencies. Across-the-board cuts are inefficient, falling hardest on local providers who primarily serve Medicaid patients.

The new federal tax cut law may reduce Montana tax revenue further. Another record fire season could burn another hole in the state budget. The shortfall in funding essential state services isn’t going to resolve itself.”

Just like Republicans in Washington D.C., the Montana Legislature created a revenue problem to create a manufactured crisis and exploit it in order to force further cuts to programs for the poor and disabled. Don’t be fooled by their rhetoric, Republicans made these cuts permanent and will never fully fund them again.

These cuts go into effect today, March 1st, and there is no way to stop them. The Montana Republicans could have prevented all these cuts by raising the tobacco tax, alcohol, hotel accommodations, rental cars, or taxes on multimillionaires. But they refused.

The only way now to reverse these cuts made by Montana Republicans, is to vote in a new Legislature. The 2018 elections for the Montana Legislature are more important than ever. Will we continue to cut taxes for the wealthy while cutting services to those in need, or will we vote for a legislature that will stop creating crisis after crisis for their own political gain and do their damn jobs?

Let’s get to work for a future of shared prosperity for all Montanans, not just the few.

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Nathan Kosted

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