The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Alec Carmichael
I Digress 

State Budget Forgets Kids and Seniors

 


The State of the Montana Budget

Side by Side

In this ongoing segment, Glasgow-based columnists Michael Burns and Alec Carmichael have agreed to square off on issues of national and international significance. Less a debate format than an opportunity to feature in-depth discussion, "Side by Side" will feature structured analysis of current events complete with fact-checking, editorial support and, when necessary, informal arbitration. To suggest a topic for our duo, write to courier@nemont.net.

So Montana’s House passed a budget. Republicans summed it up as making “hard cuts.” Democrats summed it up, basically, as cutting everything good. It passed on party lines in favor of the so-called “conservatives.”

In reality, this is the same junk theatrical show we see with every budget that goes through. Representatives have passed the hard budget, the Senate will make “compassionate” changes and the governor will sign something in between so that we function as a state. Why? Because we are legally obligated to do so. The only contention is what we should and should not spend money on, but Montana’s welfare state status in the American system means we already have most of that figured out.

We receive so much money from the federal government that we are pretty much mandated to spend money on certain programs like highways, schools, Medicaid and so on. Why the big show then? Well, would it be too cynical to say that politicians just want the lime light? But I digress.

The new budget is a little inflammatory, in my opinion, in the sense that it neglects three groups of people: youth, those suffering from mental health conditions, and seniors. The budget cuts $42 million to senior long-term care meaning homes like Valley View will continue to suffer due to a lack of funding. Speaking to area media, Montana’s House Minority Leader, Jenny Eck, underscored the poor rate of pay for many important jobs in the senior care industry:

“Right now,” Eck told KOLR in Billings recently, “we have our direct care workers, people who are doing this hard, hard work of taking someone to the bathroom, turning them over to make sure that they do not get bed sores, wiping their heads when they are getting a fever [...] all of this critical God’s work and many of them are making $9.50, $10.00 an hour. High school kids can make more working at a fast food restaurant.”

I would say that rings true. Why be a nursing assistant when line cooks make $12 an hour? Why is it that we feel entitled to take money from senior care despite the fact that senior care is already suffering, especially in Northeast Montana?

The Addictive and Mental Disorders Division of the Montana budget could see an additional $22.3 million in cuts. Meaning in a time when drug addiction and mental health have taken center stage in the courts, we as a society want to cut funding to rehabilitation and prevention. It makes little sense in the long run. But hey, who am I to judge?

I have seen the countless people addicted to dangerous drugs and suffering from PTSD, depression and suicidal ideations, but hey those aren’t real tough Montanans deserving of treatment; no need to spend money on them. This is also a good place to talk about federal funding since most of this program gets matching funds from Uncle Sam, but that money is lost by the cuts so really we are cutting double the amount to this program, kind of like not matching the 401(k) it makes little sense, but again, I digress.

To add to that point. An amendment, for a job safety program would have cost the Montana tax payer $5,000 from the general fund (half-a-cent total per person in Montana), would have brought in $800,000 for employee safety programs from Uncle Sam’s already allocated funds. The amendment was denied resulting in $795,000 not entering Montana’s economy, because of political theater and plain old ignorance... with pride too, don’t forget pride. In a state where 37.4% of our 2013 revenue was federally sourced I would say this is probably not a good thing for our economic outlook to be rejecting funding.

Then there are cuts to education. Ah the easy target of taking candy from those non-producing ever greedy babies that need schools. They were also a little slanted as the cuts would cost Native American Language Immersion Programs $32,000, higher education will lose $20 million. Funding to the Montana Digital Academy, which helps kids in rural areas, like Glasgow, attend classes on-line that aren’t available here, will also see cuts.

The budget is petty. It doesn’t make smart cuts to wasteful spending; it makes ideological ones to programs that matter. And like I demonstrated above, many of which are going to cost us millions in federal funding hurting our economy and ultimately future budgets.

Why not raise taxes? Why not find cuts in say executive salaries or overweighted bureaucracies, perhaps law enforcement won't need the new Dodge Chargers? Why not issue bonds and invest accordingly? The problem we have is that we have allowed ideology to cloud reason, and now we pay the price over and over again. No work was done across the aisle on this budget, and no work was done to ensure those that have a quiet voice are heard like our children, mental health patients, the disabled and our senior citizens. And why? For what? To save ultimately 19 million dollars, but to cost us even more in the long run through investment in the future, federal infusion dollars or through rehabilitation and crime prevention? We should just add the money saved to the prison system and call it good. It makes no sense.

 

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