Legislative Update: Thursday, March 16

Cook

Rob Cook

Funding increase for elderly, disabled shot down

By Cole Grant

One of the amendments to the state budget Montana lawmakers shot down Thursday would have given more funding to a program that helps pay for long-term care for low-income seniors and disabled Montanans.

Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, chairman of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, said there’s money left over from what was set aside for that program from the last biennium.

Cook said the Legislature’s budget proposes about $3 million less to the program than what was spent last biennium.

“You look at this $42 million that wasn’t spent, why wasn’t that spent on provider rate increases?” he asked. “Why didn’t that go to direct care? That’s a good question, isn’t it?”

Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston, supported the amendment.

“When I hear something like $42 million that went unfunded,” she said, “my first question is, ‘how do we figure out how to connect people with those services?’ Not, ‘how do we take those services away?’”

The amendment failed on a 42-58 vote, with most Republicans voting against it.

 

House’s final vote on budget bill set for Friday

The Montana House of Representatives is expected to take a final vote Friday on House Bill 2, the state’s main budget bill.

On Thursday, the Republican held House shot down amendments, most of them from Democrats, that would have provided more state funding for new and existing programs.

Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, said it’s more than just pages in a budget.

“These are not haircuts, these are strait-jackets we’re putting on some of these programs,” she said.

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said it wass not logical to fund the $200 million worth of amendments.

“So unless there’s another packet of amendments that we haven’t seen yet that make cuts to other programs or services to pay for these amendments, then it is simply political theater with no basis in reality, and simply an exercise for the media,” she said.

The state’s budget, which is facing a shortfall, has become a key issue this session.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

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