Rally news stories:
NOTE: Since our Feb. 21 rally, some of the cuts mentioned below have been restored. Tha’ts no coincidence — it’s because we are making our voices heard!!!
Feb. 21 – More than 500 Montanans braved the winter weather to travel to Helena Monday, today for a Rally to Save Public Services and Education.
Undaunted by cold temperatures, they gathered outside the state capitol at 2:00 p.m. and called for the legislature to reverse cuts to education, human services, and public safety.
View more rally photos on Flickr! Click here.
MISSED THE RALLY?
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The event was co-organized by MEA-MFT and the Montana Organizing Project.
This was the second MEA-MFT-organized event to save state jobs, public services, and education. Read about our Jan. 17 Day of Action.
Feb. 21 rally participants included faith leaders, small business owners, parents, teachers, firefighters, state employees, higher education faculty, and others. They traveled from Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Missoula, Deer Lodge, Bozeman, and parts in between to participate in the rally.
MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver explained to the crowd that the Republican majority in the legislature’s Appropriations subcommittees has made cumulative decisions resulting in more than hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts from the governor’s proposed budget. He led the crowd in chanting, “We can do better.”
Speaker after speaker echoed this message: The cuts are reckless, wrong, and completely unnecessary. Montana has the revenue it needs to maintain public services and education. This is not a time to cut. Montana’s best chance at building a positive future for our families, communities, and economy is to invest in public service and its employees.
State employee Cheryl Parker from Missoula spoke against the devastating $500 million in cuts to her agency, the Dept. of Public Health and Human Services. “These cuts will hurt the elderly, the mentally ill, the disabled, our kids, people who need Meals on Wheels, rural hospitals, and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program,” she said.
“It’s cold out here today. But it’s a lot warmer here than it is in some of those legislators’
hearts. It’s warmer here than it will be for people when their heat is cut off!”
“I think some of these legislators have deficit envy,” said MSU-Bozeman professor Kristin Intemann. “Montana is one of two states in the nation without a budget deficit, and some legislators can’t stand being left out of the action.”
She continued, “This legislature has not created one new job. But their cuts will destroy hundreds of existing jobs. Over 80% of Montana voters oppose cutting education and other services, according to a recent poll by Moore Information. We call on legislators to have the courage to face the facts. We need courage — not cuts.”
Billings firefighter Joe Sands said public employees have dedicated their careers to “saving lives, educating our youth, and caring for our fellow citizens.”
He continued, “Instead of having the courage to properly fund public services and education, this bunch, the Montana legislative majority, is trying to scapegoat public employees. They’ve declared open season on our retirement, our benefits, our pay, our rights to organize and negotiate, our very jobs.”
Sands mentioned the public employees in Wisconsin, saying, “Wisconsin’s Governor Walker made it brutally clear what he cares about. It is about crushing the one group that stands up for the middle class–the unions. Thank God we have a governor who believes in public services and public education, who stands with us!”
Helena science teacher Jon Runnalls, 2003 Montana Teacher of the Year, spoke against the legislature’s current gap of $52 million in funding for K-12 schools. “If you are for jobs in Montana, how can you be against funding education?” he said. “It makes no sense.”
State Representative Edie McClafferty (D-Butte) said, “The state budget is not just a bunch of numbers. The state budget is all about people’s lives. The cuts proposed so far have the potential to devastate Montana. Our children’s education is at stake. Our elders’ care is at stake. Our economy, our clean air, our safe communities, our very future is at stake.”
McClafferty said she is concerned that Montanans aren’t hearing enough about the cuts. “It’s not too late–we can reverse the cuts, but we need your help,” she told the cheering crowd.
Dr. Walter Gulick, a faith leader at 1st Congregational Church in Billings, asked, “What is the purpose of the state government? Is it not to provide the resources and protections for the state’s citizens — resources and protections that are difficult for the typical citizen to provide alone? Why are so many in this legislature set on making cuts in health care, education, and human services that give people a better chance to succeed?”
Other rally speakers included University of Montana student Jenifer Gursky, who spoke about the importance of higher education; and John Fleming of St. Ignatius, who spoke against the legislature’s vote last week to close the Veterans Home in Columbia Falls. Starla Gade read a letter from businessman Matt Hisel, owner of Home Resource in Missoula.
Following the rally, participants went into the capitol to talk to legislators, asking them to reverse the cuts and pass the state pay plan, which gives state employees a 1% salary increase in 2012 and 3% in 2013, effective in January of each year. “Two years ago, when the economy went south, state employees stepped up and took a voluntary pay freeze,” said Cheryl Parker. “But now the economy is improving. The revenue is available to fund the pay plan. It’s a minimal increase, but it will help.”
More about the budget cuts
“Cut the budget” might make a good sound-bite. But the cuts being pushed by the majority party in control of the legislature make no economic sense. Montana has enough revenue to fund state services and education at current levels!
Here’s our message: “REVERSE THE CUTS!”
Most Montanans want to live in a state we can be proud of — with well educated citizens, safe communities, good jobs, and clean air and water.
But the majority party legislators seem to have other values.
Their budget-slashing frenzy will destroy hundreds and hundreds of existing jobs across the state — from teachers to state employees to private businesses with state contracts.
The folks in these jobs provide essential services that help people and businesses thrive in Montana. Plus, they spend money in their local communities. Losing so many good jobs will hurt local economies all over Montana.
The budget cuts will also inflict severe suffering on Montana’s most vulnerable citizens — people who need the services that are being slashed, including Meals on Wheels, the state Veterans Home, low-income energy assistance, mental health care, Big Brothers and Sisters, and much more.
WHY? Why do majority party legislators want to raise Montana’s unemployment rate?
What logic leads them to want to destroy thousands of existing good jobs?
Why hurt Montana’s most vulnerable citizens?
Why strangle the state’s most powerful economic development asset: public education?
What are they thinking?
The cuts are based purely on ideology. These legislators don’t value public services, K-12 schools, or higher education. MEA-MFT is fighting back. We are working with many other organizations and individuals across Montana to reverse the cuts and bring some sanity to the state legislature. We need your help!
What you can do
Tell your friends: Talk with family, co-workers, and friends about these issues.
Speak out: Write a letter to the editor of your local newsletter calling on legislators to reverse the senseless budget cuts. Want help? Contact Sanna Porte at MEA-MFT: [email protected].