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MT Budget Battles: Crisis, or No Crisis?

February 11, 2011

HELENA, Mont. - Legislative appropriations subcommittees have been cutting budgets in every state agency, but Montana Budget and Policy Center Executive Director Tara Veazey says a closer look at the numbers shows all those cuts may not be needed. She points out that the governor proposed a balanced budget and, currently, the legislature's budget is about $1 billion below the governor's.

Veazey says the bottom line is that the legislature is cutting hundreds of millions of dollars more than is necessary based on the legislature's own revenue forecasts.

"What we're hoping is that, as we continue to hear good signs about revenue estimates, legislators will add back these really important programs and services, and education and infrastructure."

Veazy says an analysis of cuts also shows that they disproportionately target families, by taking funds away from programs for children, education and health care.

Cheryl Parker works in the state's Child Support Division. It's part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is being targeted for $500 million in budget cuts. She says the work they do saves the state money in the long run, adding that those kinds of benefits to all kinds of programs are being overlooked.

Parker, a member of MEA-MFT, handles literally hundreds of cases where the child support payment, or a parental medical coverage order, keeps families out of poverty.

"It keeps them above water, between their jobs and us collecting child support; it keeps them off of welfare; it keeps them off of Medicaid. We do a lot of good work in that regard."

State Republican leaders pressing for the cuts disagree with the governor's revenue forecasts and portray the cuts as part of a promise to limit state spending.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT