by William Skink
I’m not sure it matters, now that Montana is financially screwed, what the Governor knew about the budget shortfall, and when.
During the campaign, Bullock framed himself as the responsible fiscal steward of the state of Montana, who had kept the state’s finance’s healthy and in the black. That, coupled with Gianforte’s misfortune of being born in New Jersey (and the stream access issue) ensured Bullock retained his office.
Now, with the election receding in the rear-view mirror, the grim reality of Montana’s fiscal situation is sinking in. Montana Republicans took a break from their vigorous and cruel slashing to point the finger at Bullock, claiming he knew about the looming budget shortfall, but did nothing to address it:
There are two primary measures for fiscal soundness. The first is structural balance, meaning that projected revenues must be higher than projected expenditures. Something every household and small business is familiar with. The second is ending fund balance, which should reflect the amount of money needed to meet the obligations of the state. It was clear to us by mid-2016 that the ending fund balance would be gone by the time the Legislature came to town January 2017.
Republicans warned the governor via a letter dated Sept. 4, 2016, that our state budget was heading into dangerous territory, and that he had time to take action to correct the budget and reduce spending. The warnings were ignored and the Republican-led Legislature is working to weather the current crisis and focused on a plan to get back in balance and ensure fiscal soundness in the long-term.
Of course Bullock didn’t do anything. The campaign was in full swing, so obviously Bullock wasn’t going to suddenly change his messaging about Montana’s rosy financial situation because duplicitous Republicans sent a letter.
Bullock’s assessment of Montana’s finance’s, and Republican posturing, is nothing but shameless political theatrics. While the people who are supposed to be representing us play their political games in Helena, there is real suffering happening already and substantial fear about the coming cuts.
This past week saw public defenders in Helena describing their impossible job of providing constitutionally required representation to clients who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. It was sobering testimony that should be raising serious alarms:
“My stress is through the roof.”
This is Alisha Backus, she’s a public defender in Kalispell. She’s been on the job for about a year and a half. During that time a statewide budget crunch has pushed the Public Defender Commission to outline cuts to offset an anticipated $3.5 million shortfall — that’s about 5 percent of the Office of the Public Defender biennium budget.
Some of those cost savings come in the form of hiring freezes, moving around discretionary funds, or proposed legislation that will free up attorneys’ time to work on other cases.
The Commission’s plan also limits the use of outside contractors to help with public defenders workloads.
“Part of this mitigation means that I take all cases; I take misdemeanors, I take felonies, I take every type of felony, I take involuntary commitments, adoption, dependency neglect cases, and also guardianship and juvenile cases,” Backus says. “In fact, I am assigned right now lead council to a deliberate homicide case, with a year and a half experience.”
In just the last two years, public defenders have seen child neglect and abuse cases double. A big factor is the alarming rise in meth use across the state. But there is virtually no chance CPS or the public defenders office will get the funding they need.
The crisis will only get worse. Here’s more from the article:
Hooks says public defenders have no control over the number cases they have to work on. Montana law requires that if someone can’t afford an attorney, the state will provide one.
And right now, caseloads are growing. Hooks says courts are especially seeing an increase in the number of criminal and child abuse and neglect cases. He says abuse and neglect cases have increased 50 percent the last two years:
That growth has some public defenders worried that they won’t be able to ethically continue doing their job.
“It’s a concern to everybody in OPD, because if the volume of work is too excessive, we fear that we are providing less than the level of ethical representation that is required.”
Hooks says, in some cases, if a court determines that public defenders didn’t do a good enough job, it could mean the whole trial has to be done over again.
While our state leaders have launched interim-committee studies, the harsh reality is these programs and departments need more money to do their job, and they are not going to get it.
Fucking over poor people in our criminal injustice system is just the tip of the iceberg. Senior citizens are also on the chopping block, according to this article:
Services for senior citizens and those who need long-term care were slashed as part of budget cuts made to the Department of Public Health and Human Services by a legislative budget committee Friday.
“It is a significant cut to nursing homes,” said Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, who voted against the cut. “Nursing homes are an entitlement and they are a strong business in local communities. I think we are going to have a lot of problems with all of these different cuts in all of these different areas.”
Without program-level final numbers from the Legislature’s fiscal division, it was unclear Friday exactly how much the Health and Human Services Joint Appropriations Subcommittee trimmed the program’s budget, but advocates for senior citizens and those who work to care for them called the cuts severe.
This is an area I am learning more about every day with my new job, and I can tell you Montana’s aging population is already in a simmering crisis, especially here in Missoula. Every new bond and increase in housing costs puts more pressure on people with fixed incomes.
And don’t get me started on Medicaid.
The poor, the elderly, the abused. These are the victims of our broken political system.
Once upon a time these segments of our society had a political party that fought for them, but no longer. Obama saved Wall Street and spent the rest of his time in office yapping about a recovery that most Americans never experienced. And Governor Bullock made himself out to be the responsible fiscal champion of the state of Montana, but that turns out to be nothing more than hot air.
Democrats in Montana should be doing everything they can to represent the vulnerable in their state, but there’s a special election coming, so a lot of that needed energy will be diverted to try and win an election Democrats lost handily last November.
Already the Democratic identity squabbling is taking attention away from the cruel slashes that will hurt their constituents. Will it be the woman with the nose ring or the outsider musician? Does it matter?
Electing a woman is still a very big priority for those who feel their Queen was cheated from ascending to her throne. There is still a significant lack of introspection from Democrats about the consequences of prioritizing identity politics over nominating the best candidate most capable of winning.
To conclude this post, here’s a reminder from James Conner about the consequences of identity politics as it relates to the health of Americans facing the dismantling of Obamacare:
If he signs it, will Trump ultimately be the one to blame for gutting health care and condemning tens of thousands to ill health or death? No. Hillary Clinton, and the let’s-make-history-by-electing-a-female-President Democrats who subordinated the national interest to selfish and stupid identity politics, ran a blundering campaign, and thus lost a winnable election, will be the people with the most blood on their hands.
Well said, James.