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Report from Helena – Week 7

The education bill just passed out of the Senate (SB 175) and is coming to the House soon. They are sending a lot of parts and pieces, which presents a challenge in putting it all together and understanding it.
This is one of the major bills of the session. It has been in the design and crafting stage for over four years. Senator Llew Jones is the chief engineer and the one that understands every part and piece. The challenge for most of us is learning enough to understand the complexity of the package. This is not simple even at its lowest levels. There have been a lot of brilliant minds involved, folks from every level of the education system, top level experts from the departments of tax and revenue, property owners, citizens, teachers, school boards and finally, now it involves the folks that will make the decisions as to its final shape and form – the legislators. We are handed the task of presenting a package that we think will do two things; first, be what is fair to you the parents and taxpayers, and second, be the package the governor will approve when it arrives on his desk. This bill will be in the news a lot from this point on and will take many sidetracks as it goes through the next several weeks. Be patient and follow this along as it takes shape.
There are a few other newsworthy bills taking shape now also and soon they too will be taking the final steps of committees and floor activity. Sounds to me like the pay increase ideas are taking form now as the data becomes available as to exactly who received increases over the last four years and who did not. There will be pay increases. What I’m sensing is the final bills will most likely have some steps to the increases, filling in those that did not get increases, then not likely a flat percentage for all, but a graduated scale where the lower levels get the higher percentages. What we hear sounds like the focus and end goal is going to be very fair and positive.
Another tough decision that is beginning to produce sleepless nights for a lot of us is the final decision on the federal Medicaid expansion program. We are seeing that nationally several conservative states are changing what was thought to be firm and rigid stands of not taking the money from the feds into positions of accepting the expansion program. Even though our federal government is broke and has to borrow the money, they are saying it makes more sense to accept the money than to start taking the necessary steps towards funding expanded Medicaid at their own state level. I can see both sides of the issue. The long term fiscal responsibility is for the state to do the funding. Montana is blessed with being able to do that with minimum tax increases heaped on ourselves if we utilize the development and revenue potential from our natural resources. The conundrum… help dig the national debt hole even deeper by taking the borrowed money from the federal government, or make the adjustments in our system to better fund this on our own. The choices we make now are going to impact us for a long time. To me, this is not the time to be apathetic. Be involved. Share your thoughts with your legislators.
Ed Greef, HD 90

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