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State Employee Group: Budget Shell Game Will Mean Lost Jobs

April 7, 2009

Helena, MT – Budget knives have been unsheathed in the Montana Senate Finance and Claims Committee, with cuts being considered both for public schools and state agencies. The threatened cutbacks have surprised the organization that represents public school professionals and government employees, because Montana has millions to spare in ending fund balances.

MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver calls it a "shell game." He says General Fund money is being moved around, with a negative end result for state programs and services, and public school students.

"Every school district in this state will be worse off, two years down the road. Fewer classroom teachers, fewer para-professionals, less curriculum opportunities for kids. I think that's all very real."

Committee members are considering retooling part of the public education budget, by replacing state dollars with federal stimulus money for budget basics. They claim they want to keep state money in surplus, in case the economy worsens over the next two years.

State employees already had recently agreed to a salary freeze for two years, to do their part in tight budget times, says Feaver.

"They took that freeze because they believe that would help save jobs. And then, the Senate Finance and Claims Committee cut the state's General Fund across the board, at all state agencies. Well, that doesn't save jobs."

The budget cuts are amendments to HB 2, the General Fund appropriation bill. The committee's plan is not the final say, however. The legislature and governor must agree to the cuts, or rework the general budget plan.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT