MTPR

State Budget Advances Without Funding For Vacant Health Department Jobs

Mar 11, 2019

A roughly $10 billion state budget passed out of the Montana House Appropriations Committee Monday afternoon. Lawmakers are pushing forward with a smaller state spending plan than the one offered by Gov. Steve Bullock back in November.

Lawmakers on Monday voted 16-6 to move forward with a new the state budget that will guide spending for the next two fiscal years. Several Democrats joined Republicans in passing House Bill 2 out of committee.

The bill does not include funding for 100 of around 400 currently vacant jobs within the state health department. That was one of the most contested items in Monday’s debate.

Republicans say not funding these vacant positions frees up money to fund other critical services like the state’s share of the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Rep. Marilyn Ryan, a Democrat from Missoula, says Republicans’ resistance to raise taxes and additional revenue is leading to budget decisions that are limiting critical government services.

"We don’t have enough revenue to provide the services that are being requested and needed in the state," she says.

Gov. Steve Bullock is proposing to raise roughly $100 million with tax increases on tobacco, car rentals, hotel rooms, and liquor. Those policy proposals are expected to be heard in committees in the coming weeks.

During Monday’s action, Republicans rejected Democrats’ proposals to include funding for a new preschool program that’s a priority for Gov. Bullock. Republicans say they have their own plan for a preschool program that will come later in the session.

Republicans also removed a Medicaid pay-rate increase for people that help care for the elderly, and for people with mental health issues and disabilities that they previously approved. Gov. Bullock had not requested the pay increase.

As of late last week, the budget from the Republican controlled House Appropriations Committee was $33 million, or 0.8 percent lower than the one asked for by Gov. Bullock. It also funds around 230 fewer state job positions.

Adjustments made Monday will get baked into a new total for state spending that will now move onto the House floor for a full debate.