Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Bachmeier blasts GOP on budget cuts


October 6, 2017

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, talks about the state budget and pending budget cuts Thursday at the Hill County Courthouse.

State Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre and people who depend on state-funded services spoke out against pending state budget cuts at a rally on the steps of the Hill County Courthouse Thursday.

The event was streamed live on Facebook.

Bachmeier said to the crowd of about 30 people, some who carried signs that said "resist and persist" and "save our essential public services," that Montana House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R- Culbertson and Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, are to blame for sharp proposed budget reductions.

Republicans, Bachmeier said, intentionally overestimated state revenue estimates and have refused to consider measures that could bring in additional revenue.

"They so desperately want to take back the governorship, they are willing to stick (Gov. Steve) Bullock and the Democrats with their ferocious and failing fiscal disaster," Bachmeier said.

He added that by cutting programs, "Montana is saving a dollar now but the reality is that when we don't invest now, it is going to cost us a lot more down the road." The rally came at the end of two days of hearings by the state Legislative Finance Committee in Helena, where lawmakers weighed in about how Bullock should move forward with implementing $267 million in cuts to state agencies. Bullock has already identified $228 million in possible reductions.

Decreased oil and gas revenues to the state, low prices on agricultural products and an unusually active wildfire season has led to a $227 million budget shortfall. Montana's Constitution requires the state budget be balanced.

Bachmeier said despite efforts by Bullock, as well as Democratic and moderate Republican lawmakers to balance the budget using a mix of cuts and revenue raisers, the leadership of the Republican-led legislature and their more conservative members shot down any such proposals.

If new revenue is not added, Bullock will have to cut the budgets of state agencies by 10 percent.

Those cuts will be in addition to cuts the Legislature already made and cuts caused by Senate Bill 261, which caused a $67 million cut when revenue projections dropped earlier this year and diverted $37 million from the state's firefighting account to the general budget.

Because they comprise 85 percent of the budget, education, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and Department of Corrections would face the largest cuts.

A handout distributed at the rally says the proposed cuts would cost Montana $246.1 million in state and corresponding federal cuts to DPHHS.

Angela Murri of Quality of Life Concepts, a social services provider in Havre, said the cuts would wipe out funding for early childhood intervention services for children 3 and younger. The program is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law that requires states provide services to children with special needs.

The law, she said, is meant to enhance services to children with disabilities, curb costs and increase the capabilities of parents to meet the needs of their children through care, training and support.

The Family Education and Support program, which often builds on the early childhood intervention program to maximize independent living skills within the home and community, would also have its funding pulled. The program, Murri said, helps children with special needs find employment when they reach their adolescent and adult years.

The end of such programs, Murri said, will have far reaching effects.

"Without these programs we will see an influx of children entering public schools in need of special education, increased health care costs, increased unemployment rate and set us back on decades of progress reducing the needs of institutions, segregation, discrimination and non inclusive environments."

Whitney Milkie said the services provided to her blind 7-year-old son, Ander, would be jeopardized by the cuts. The proposed cuts, she said, would be "short-sighted and cruel" if they went through.

Milkie said that since Ander was four months old, Quality of Life Concepts has helped connect her family with resources for his schooling and care.

She added that cuts would force Montana to drop its contract with Parents Let's Unite For Kids, a website for children with a range of disabilities and their families to seek services, transition to life after high school and known their rights,

"In short, this is an ideal resource for our families in a rural state where we don't have the access to specialized, all kinds of different services doctors, there is just a lot of needs in our state," Milkie said.

Keeley Wilson, an 18-year-old woman with Williams Syndrome who has been diagnosed with 15 other conditions, has also received care from Quality of Life Services and spoke to the crowd. She said that throughout the years the organization has helped match her family up with services, special adaptive equipment, occupational therapy and specialists.

"As I grow up and become more independent, QLC makes sure my services change to meet my needs," she said.

"Please don't cut these services that I have been blessed to receive," she said. "I know they've helped me become the smart independent and helpful person that I am."

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

A group listens to Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, Thursday at the Hill County Courthouse during a rally to talk about the state budget situation and pending budget cuts.

Wilson said she wants to make sure other special needs kids and families can also benefit from the same services.

Others spoke about the impact to education.

Montana State University-Northern English professor John Snider said when he began teaching at Northern in 1989, the state covered two-thirds of the cost of a student's college education. Since then, the state's chair has fallen to slightly more than a third.

He said all his students work at least one job, and some are single parents,

The students, Snider said, deserve the backing of state lawmakers.

Bachmeier said that Legislative Finance Committee Chair Llew Jones, R-Conrad, has recently indicated that he is more open to holding a special session to deal with the budget.

Bachmeier said people need to reach out to their legislators and encourage them to find a way to reduce the pain of the cuts.


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