Last week, a Special Session was called to fix the $227 million shortfall in the state budget due to the most expensive fire season on record and because state revenues are not coming in at the projections Republican lawmakers politically over-estimated last session. Republicans over-estimated revenues to the tune of $100 million dollars, out of thin air, so they could over spend state tax dollars, not make necessary cuts, and appease tobacco lobbyists who wanted to defeat a proposed tobacco tax increase. As the Montana Standard pointed out and every other newspaper in Montana, “it’s a crisis largely of their own making.” And let’s be clear, they left town two days early to avoid doing their jobs and making tough decisions.
So, by the close of the last legislative session, the Republican budget was already, shall we say, screwed. Then the fires came. Montana faced the worst fire season in our state’s history. We all know this because we breathed in the smoke everyday this past summer. The bill for our fire season has come due and its $75 million.
The budget needs work, it needs adjustments, and it needs sufficient revenue to pay for these fires. The budget needs to keep investing in Montana jobs and fund the essential services that Republicans prioritized when they passed their budget. Governor Bullock laid out a plan of a 1/3 in cuts, a 1/3 in revenue and a 1/3 in legislative funding transfers. Governor Bullock has already implemented $76 million in cuts to state agencies, now it’s time for the Legislature to do their part…or not.
In a Special Session focused on the budget, jobs, and funding services, it may surprise you that the first actions taken by Montana Republicans was to expand the session to consider taking out a loan for the Coal Trust Fund, increase health care costs for Montanans, and to discriminate against their fellow citizens.
The first of these bad ideas is the Republican’s continual effort to take money out of the state’s Coal Trust Fund and use it pay for services. Every time Republicans mess up the budget they want to break the Coal Trust. If they ever accomplish breaking the Trust, they’ll eventually decide to also take some money out and give it to corporations and millionaires because they “create jobs.” This scheme is a slippery slope towards depleting the Trust and robbing our children’s future. This bad idea should be the biggest reason to never have a Republican in the Governor’s Office. Thankfully, with the help of the Democratic Minority, this bad idea died on the floor, for now.
Next up was the bad idea of defunding the state health clinics that serve over 12,000 Montanans and their families and have saved the state $30 million. The ironic thing is that this came a day after Republicans praised how well the state clinics and health plans are doing. This idea also died on the floor today mainly because Republican lawmakers like using these clinics for themselves and their families with the free healthcare they receive all year long in turn for just 90 days of not actually doing their jobs.
But, the Republican hypocrisy didn’t end there. They also introduced a bill to put a tax on health insurance co-ops in Montana with no real reason besides doing the dirty bidding of Blue Cross Blue Shield. This insurance premium tax is put on private insurance in Montana but non-profits are excluded. If this bill passes and non-profit insurance companies are taxed, the direct outcome is a rise in health insurance for people who use PacificSource or the Montana Health Co-op. This is another bad Republican idea that will not solve the budget shortfall and will only make healthcare more expensive.
Now for the most egregious act by the Republicans today against Montanans. They decided that the proposed rule change by DPHHS to allow individuals to correct their legal gender status by submitting a form stating they have undergone a gender transition, or have an intersex condition was going to cost the state money. Republicans believe that Montana birth certificates should be looked into and reverse because the changes might cause reprinting costs. Yep, you read that right, the Montana GOP believes our budget is out of whack, not because of fires or making up a fake revenue estimate, but because DPHHS is updating their administrative rules from the 70s for birth certificates. And get this, it’s a flat out lie. There are no added expenses to this new change.
Of course, we all know who was behind this move, Jeff Laszloffy and the Montana Family Foundation. They got their theocrat Republican state senator Albert Olszewski to carry this bill to expand the session and discriminate against Montanans. This sadly passed with enough votes in both chambers and now the Session will derail into Straight White Male identity politics of the Republican Party instead of focusing on the mess they created with their unbalanced budget.
Bullock is the goalkeeper and will prevent this from happening, but it’s time to call your legislators and tell them to quit screwing around with our tax dollars and fix the mess their partisan games have gotten the state into. Call 406-444-3064 or find their contact information online HERE.