HELENA – The Bullock administration will proceed with a $20 million-plus budget transfer to avoid further service cuts this year in human services and other programs.
But Democrats on a legislative panel Wednesday blocked efforts by Republicans to formally request the administration for a plan on how to fill the budget hole next year.
“I don’t know what you expect in this (request) – that we’re going to cut some more?” said Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte. “Let’s just give the executive an opportunity to govern and let them deal with these shortfalls as best they can.”
The shortfall next year could be as much as $30 million, and would have to be covered by the 2019 Legislature.
Democrats on the Legislative Finance Committee voted as a bloc to prevent any Republican motion to ask the Bullock administration for a plan on how to mitigate the shortfall in fiscal 2019.
Instead, Democrats asked Republicans to issue a formal “no comment” on the request – which Republicans also refused.
The committee’s failure to agree on any action delayed any budget transfer until June 10, instead of right away.
The transferred funds will help cover shortfalls at the Montana State Hospital, child-protective services, spending on Medicaid services for the poor and disabled and the Office of Public Defender.
However, the transfer won’t affect budget cuts that have already occurred this year in many human-service programs.
Many of those cuts were approved last November by the Legislature in a special session to balance the state budget, in the face of a shortfall in state tax revenue.
Advocates for the mentally ill and the disabled said Wednesday they’re disappointed that neither the Bullock administration nor lawmakers on the committee had asked for an even bigger budget transfer, or “supplemental request,” to undo some of the cuts already under way for state funding for local services.
“We were very disappointed not to see a supplemental that included some sort of back-fill in community services,” said Beth Brenneman, an attorney for Disability Rights Montana. “We are in an historic period, where community service systems are being dismantled throughout the state, and we have not seen the worst of it yet.
“And this sort of thing is very, very hard to recreate once it’s been dismantled.”