By Ron VandenBoom
Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, said Wednesday that he finds many of the things taking place on the Education Appropriation Subcommittee to be, "a bit peculiar."
Jergeson, who had just come from a Subcommittee meeting, said the committee did not accept a request from the university system for an increase of $500 in funding per year per student and instead accepted a proposal by Republican Gov. Judy Martz of $100 per year per student.
"Inevitably tuitions are going to go up," Jergeson said, adding that the meeting "kind of deteriorated from there."
Jergeson said several other items that had been proposed by the Martz Administration were also not funded by the committee.
One item Jergeson referred to as peculiar was the Republican controlled committee's refusal to fund in a separate motion to pay expenses for sewer and water at several of the smaller universities around the state, including MSU-Northern.
This means, Jergeson said, the cost of paying water and sewer will be coming out of tuition.
Jergeson said he estimated Northern's annual water and sewer bill to be about $44,000 annually.
"That's a bill that has to be paid," he said. "So something else will have to be eliminated from Northern's budget equivalent to that."
The figure, Jergeson said is equivalent to one faculty, administrative, or other position on campus.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, threw his weight behind Jergeson's comments, saying that from his perspective it really shows the budget is in trouble.
"With the energy problems, and layoffs, and so forth," he said. "It kind of shows that we're really struggling to get any money."
Tester said he couldn't speak for other committees, but he suspects that the same problems Jergeson is experiencing in the Education Appropriation Subcommittee also exist in other committees.
"It appears that basic services aren't going to get the money they need either," Tester said.
Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, said he too had noticed that certain education bills, including some proposed by the Martz Administration, were being killed in House committees. He cited as an example HB-60, Rep. Alan Olson's teacher scholarship program that would have provided up to $1,500 in scholarship help to students entering teacher education programs.
"It was an indication to me that they're saying, 'we're going to kill some of the legislation we think should be passed and the other side of the table is not going to get anything more than that as well,'" Musgrove said.
The three Democrats all said they agreed Montana is facing some real serious problems with the budget. It is a problem that Jergeson is not particularly shy about blaming on the Republicans.
"They're unwilling to look at the revenue side and the reductions in revenue they passed during the last session," he said.
The three Democrats also are not hesitant to label the Republicans as showing "resistance to education."
Rep. Merlin Wolery, R. Rudyard, disagrees with his Democratic counterparts that his side of the aisle is resistant to education. Indeed Wolery said, he is very pro-education. But he admits the budget is just not there.
Wolery said the Republican leadership just Wednesday told him that the most recent estimates on the budget predicts only about a $5 million will be remain at the end of the current session.
Wolery said he supports, SB-70 that offers a 3.3 percent increase the first year and a 2.5 percent increase the second year to fund k-12 education, but he acknowledges that budget shortfalls may well dictate that Gov. Martz's HB-121 will be the one that passes. Martz's bill keeps education funding at current levels this year and increases k-12 spending by $13 million next year.
"If you don't have the money," Wolery said. "What can you do. No one wants their taxes raised."