Today is Valentine's Day, yet we don't feel the love when we look at the actions taken by the legislative majority in Helena during the 62nd legislative session.
Where's the love for Montanans by axing 5 percent out of a lean budget, and thereby cutting or eliminating critically needed services? Where's the love in attempts to reduce or eliminate basic civil rights? Where's the love for the voters by needlessly changing voter identification requirements, reversing same-day voter registration, throwing out voter initiatives? Where's the love of the many wonders of our great state by gutting environmental protections, protections created from lessons learned after decades of corporate abuse?
The legislative majority has slashed the governor's balanced budget by at least 5 percent across the board, even much more for secondary education. Why? There's no need. These are cuts for the sake of cutting, not for economic development. More information comes in every day that indicates Montana's economy is rebounding. The budget the governor presented is balanced and sets aside $238 million for an ending fund balance. Montana continues to place high in various business friendly rankings. Most recently, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation ranks Montana sixth most business-friendly tax climate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has rated Montana first in entrepreneurship and innovation and 10th in overall growth performers. Montana continues to perform well and is not in economic crisis.
Why all of the cuts? To be even more "business friendly?" Is it business friendly to cut funding for education when businesses need, demand, an educated work force? How can we compete by cutting early childhood education funding, doing away with all-day kindergarten and slashing funding for K-12 and higher education, cutting over $70 million? Are these cuts in the best interest of Montana and Montanans?
Let's put a human face to some additional unnecessary and harmful funding cuts. The Big Sky Rx Program that helps senior citizens with their prescription drug costs - eliminated. The nationally recognized Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program - eliminated. Big Brothers Big Sisters support - eliminated. Reducing drug court funding by 35 percent. Reducing medical subsidies for adopted children. Reducing funding for home health care that allow people to remain in their homes, rather than the more expensive and less desirable option of nursing or group home. These are just a few examples of the unnecessary $30 million in cuts to health and human services the legislative majority has proposed. Where's the love?
There certainly is no love for we, the voters. Already the House has approved eliminating election day registration and same-day voting and requiring that the only acceptable form of identification to register and/or vote are a current Montana driver's license, a current tribal photo identification, or a current Montana identification card - all which take financial resources that some of our neediest citizens do not have. Rather than improve upon the Medical Marijuana Act, the legislative majority is actively moving to abolish this voter initiative that passed with 62 percent of the vote.
What is there to say about attacks on human rights by the legislature's majority? There are unnecessary bills aplenty that unconstitutionally focus on immigration. One of the worst bills would make it punishable by up to six months imprisonment if a doctor does not perform a legislatively mandated ultrasound with provided script if his or her patient requests an abortion.
Lastly are attempts to gut our environmental protections. Foremost is the bill passed in the House to amend our state Constitution, changing our rights to "a clean, healthful and economically productive environment," giving businesses the constitutional right to object to any regulation affecting their bottom line. Montana and her people continue to recover from environmental abuses by past, irresponsible mining practices: Libby, Zortman Gold Mine, Berkeley Pit. Montanans twice voted to outlaw cyanide heap leach mining. We love the health and natural beauty of our state. Why can't this legislative majority?
Write or call your legislators at (406) 444-4800 and hold them accountable to govern for the benefit of all Montanans, every human face. Ask them, where's the love?
This opinion piece is signed by Missoula City Council member Pam Walzer; Maggie Wright of Hamilton; Charlotte Kelley of Clancy; Sarah Cline of Great Falls; Bethany Letiecq of Bozeman and Monica Abbott of Helena.
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