Like Montanans across the state, my husband and I sit down at our kitchen table and balance our checkbook each month. We pay our bills, we look at our bank account, we readjust our budget, and we do our best to put aside money for the months and years ahead.
Recently, Montana received some disturbing news: the amount of money coming into our state is not enough to pay our bills. So, in order to keep the lights on, the governor has been forced to instruct his cabinet agencies to find 10 percent in possible spending cuts.
Simply put, these across-the-board cuts will be extremely painful. During the 2017 session, the Legislature cut $218 million from the general fund. Now we’re talking about an additional $227 million in cuts. You can’t cut to this degree in a budget like ours and not cut bone.
What does “cutting bone” look like? Here are just some of the cuts the governor is being forced to consider:
• Overwhelming cuts to Medicaid rates that will devastate rural hospitals, nursing homes, and services provided to the elderly and disabled children.
• Slashing funding for the Montana university system, which will likely be forced to hike tuition rates (again) and decrease financial aid to Montana students.
• Delaying payments to local schools, who will have to makeup the difference elsewhere — possibly through increased school levies.
• Cuts to the Department of Corrections, causing our already overcrowded county jails to hold state prisoners and shifting that cost burden onto local taxpayers.
• Closing the Billings crime lab, which will make it harder to prosecute violent crimes.
• Cuts to economic development programs that Montana small businesses.
This is not who we are as Montanans. These cuts will be devastating to our friends, neighbors and communities. And frankly, it doesn’t have to be this way.
For years, the Republican majority in the legislature has chosen to protect giveaways to out-of-state corporations and multi-millionaires on the backs of Montana’s working families, the same families who work hard to live within their means and responsibly balance their checkbooks each month.
This past legislative session, Democrats proposed a balanced budget which relied on a responsible mix of spending cuts and changes to our tax system, a budget that would have included a $300 million rainy day fund. We put forward nearly a dozen measures to help keep Montana in the black by asking the super wealthy and out-of-state corporations to pay their fair share.
Time and time again, in the name of “cutting taxes,” the Republican majority blocked these bills from even coming to the floor. The question I keep asking is “cutting taxes for whom?” because my family’s taxes haven’t gone down and I would bet that yours haven’t either.
What’s become painfully clear in the past few weeks is that when Republican legislators crow about not raising taxes, they are actually just punting. They leave it to local schools and local governments to increase your property taxes. They increase your daughter’s college tuition. They force you to pay more for your mother’s home health care or your son’s autism therapy. Meanwhile, multi-millionaires and out-of-state corporations continue to enjoy their tax breaks.
So what next?
Democratic legislators are working with Gov. Steve Bullock to carefully manage the state’s checkbook. We would like to change course and come back with a fairer, more balanced approach to the budget, but we cannot do it alone. Unless the Republican majority is willing to come to the table, the governor is left with no choice but to cut bone.
And that’s not a plan, it’s a travesty.