Montana’s state budget: HB 2
May 2 – At one point in the 2011, majority Republicans had cut over $1 billion from the governor’s proposed budget for education, health and human services, and all other state enterprises.
MEA-MFT and our friends in the Partnership for Montana’s Future responded by mobilizing our members to contact legislators and organizing three major rallies against the budget cuts, the largest of which drew 2,000 people on April 1.
Your involvement made a difference! Governor Schweitzer was eventually able to hammer out an agreement with Republican legislative leadership. Much of the funding was restored.
Following is an analysis of the state budget now from the Montana Budget and Policy Center:
It is true that the revised state budget still contains cuts to education and public services. However, it is important to note that the majority of the proposed cuts were restored in Governor Schweitzer’s amendatory veto.
Because of your hard work and the work of your members, the final budget negotiated by the governor and Republican leadership restored close to $150 million (roughly three-quarters) of the cuts passed by the Legislature just two weeks ago.
Below is a broad overview of the budget based on our preliminarily analysis. PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT THESE FIGURES MIGHT CHANGES AS MORE INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE.
Virtually all federal funds have been restored to health and human services. Although the federal funds were not designated in the amendatory veto, enough was added back to fully restore federal funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Low-Income Energy Assistance, and Title X Family Planning.
Dept. of Public Health and Human Services
• The current budget restored $123 million to DPHHS, brining the current total to roughly $23 million below the governor’s proposed budget.
• Cuts to Healthy Montana Kids, Big Sky Rx (prenoscription assistance for low-income seniors), and personal services for seniors and people with disabilities were fully restored.
• Tobacco use prevention, which was eliminated entirely in the Legislature’s original budget, was restored to $9.4 million for the biennium, reflecting $7 million in cuts from the governor’s originally proposed budget.
• Although federal funding for family planning was restored, state funding appears to still be eliminated in the final budget.
Base aid funding for K-12 public schools throughout the state was cut by $5 million compared to the governor’s proposed budget. We are awaiting additional information regarding other potential cuts in K-12. The result will likely be laid off teachers and staff, larger classrooms, compromised quality, and larger local property taxes.
The final budget negotiated by the governor restored $15.5 million in funding to higher education in Montana. The higher education budget is still approximately $21 million under the governor’s originally proposed spending levels. Tuition increases will be necessary to make up for the cut in state funding, putting higher education further out of reach for Montana families.
The Legislature cut a $21 million pay plan for public employees that do the work that keep our communities safe, healthy, and educated all across the state. This is the first time in history that the Legislature has rejected a proposed pay plan that the unions and the governor bargained as the law directs. By fiscal year 2013, base salaries for state employees will have been frozen for 5 calendar years. Additionally, the legislative rejection of the bargained pay plan could jeopardize all future pre-session negotiations. MEA-MFT framed this issue in the following way- If the Legislature can unilaterally reject the bargained pay plan, what is the meaning of good faith bargaining, and how do we ensure that the people doing work that matters throughout Montana get the equitable pay and health care they deserve?
Cuts Were Unnecessary
Although we should take a moment to appreciate our successes in fighting back the worst of the cuts to the public programs that help make our communities safe, healthy, and educated, we must also remember that the remaining cuts were as unnecessary as they are damaging.
• The Legislature could have passed any number of sensible bills that would have increased state revenues by closing tax loopholes and making sure that all taxpayers are paying what they owe under our current tax laws. Instead, they rejected every such proposal presented, including a bill to make sure out-of-state taxpayers pay the taxes they owe when they sell vacation homes in Montana and a bill that would limit the use of foreign tax shelters by multi-national corporations.
• Instead, they chose to give $16 million away in the form of a business equipment tax cut, with the largest benefits going to multinational corporations like Exxon Mobile and Conoco Phillips.
• The Legislature also refused to acknowledge and budget for an extra $27 million that their nonpartisan legislative staff anticipate will be coming into the state over the next two years.
The Montana Budget and Policy Center is currently working on a more detailed analysis of the budget, including defeated revenue and compliance bills.
Collectively, we worked to save Montana from some of the worst budget and revenue proposals of this session. It would not have been possible without your testimonies, advocacy, and member engagement. Now we must continue to build upon the momentum built and start working toward a much more productive budget in 2013!