Thursday, May 5, 2011

End of Session Update

Thanks so much to the Partnership for Montana's Future for providing this end-of-session update, and for all your hard work during this tumultuous session.

Federal Funds
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.

• 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, 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.

Higher Education
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 $15 million under the governor’s originally proposed spending levels. Tuition increases may be necessary to make up for the cut in state funding, putting higher education further out of reach for Montana families.

Pay Plan
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 five calendar years. Additionally, the legislative rejection of the bargained pay plan could jeopardize all future pre-session negotiations.

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. THERE’S STILL TIME TO CALL THE GOVERNOR (444-3111) AND ASK HIM TO VETO SB372.
• 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.

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