July 21 – The following guest editorial, co-authored by MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver and several others, appeared in many of the state’s newspapers this week.
The beginning of a new fiscal year — July — is a good time to reflect on our vision for Montana and the best way to create a successful future for our families, businesses and communities.
It’s an opportunity to consider solutions that will put Montana on a stronger path to prosperity.
When the dust settled in Helena at the end of the 2011 legislative session, a state budget for the next two years emerged that largely escaped the immense harm that would have resulted from the legislative majority’s proposals.
For months during the session, the legislative majority attempted to slash funding for our schools, children’s health insurance, disability services and countless other programs and services that make Montana a great place to live and work.
Montanans responded. Thousands attended rallies to demand that legislators reverse the
senseless budget cuts.
This extraordinary outpouring, along with support from the governor, forced the legislative majority to restore almost $150 million in funding for crucial public services.
Without this outpouring, our Legislature would have willingly chosen a path that would leave families cold and hungry, deprive individuals with disabilities of the independence and dignity they deserve and leave future generations of Montanans without quality education.
Men and women across the state would have lost life-saving cancer screenings. Low-income families and seniors would face subzero winter temperatures without heating or weatherization assistance.
Though some of the worst cuts were restored, the final budget still contains severe cuts that will hurt families and communities across the state.
Major cuts to public education hinder Montana’s economic recovery. Children face more crowded classrooms and program cuts. Families may not be able to afford higher education as tuition rises.
Foster children will be more difficult to place, decreasing their chances of becoming successful, productive adults.
As families and communities stuffer, small business growth will be placed on pause.
The Legislature’s failure to pass a pay plan for the public employees who keep our communities safe, healthy and educated all across Montana not only hurts these employees and their families, it also hurts local economies. Fewer dollars circulating on Montana’s Main Streets will hinder the growth of small businesses, making it harder for them to create jobs.
In Montana and nationally, unemployment statistics suggest that public sector layoffs and job losses are creating a significant drag on economic recovery.
These cuts are damaging and completely unnecessary. And they pale in comparison to what the legislative majority tried to do.
We must not forget their efforts to undermine our economic recovery and long-term prosperity. They made these choices not because of financial constraints — the money was there — but because of political ideology.
To the bitter end, the legislative majority ignored updated revenue estimates that proved every cut was unnecessary.
These same legislators also ignored the fact that the federal dollars they were proposing to refuse (more than $100 million) would not be returned to the U.S. government to help reduce the deficit. Instead, the money would simply go to other states.
So as we begin this fiscal new year, it’s a good time to think about what your state legislators are working toward: Long-term prosperity for Montana? Or pulling the rug out from under those trying to make a better life for themselves and their communities?
Tim Christiansen, owner of Vino Per Tutti and Montana Small Business Alliance member
Kristina Davis, executive director, Children’s Defense Fund, Great Falls
Eric Feaver, president, MEA-MFT, Helena
Mike Mayer, executive director, Summit Independent Living Center
Tom Osborn, executive director, North Central Independent Living Services